Things didn’t look good at all for the Avalanche in the early going Thursday after the Jets scored two goals in the first five minutes and 25 seconds, including getting their initial score just 24 seconds after puck drop.
Colorado came into the game in a bit of slump, having lost three of its last four, and it seemed like a fourth loss in five was in the works.
But then Matt Duchene did something he hadn’t done since Nov. 14, and Ryan O’Reilly did something he hadn’t done since Nov. 21.
They both scored.
And because of that Colorado did something it had only done once this season: win a game after trailing at the first intermission with its 4-3 shootout victory.
Duchene had accounted for just one point (an assist) in his past seven games since returning from a back injury, but he found his stride in this one, ultimately potting two goals, assisting on O’Reilly’s goal and throwing in one of the Avs two successful shootout tries.
O’Reilly entered under similar circumstances, having notched just one point (also an assist) in his past eight games before he assisted on Duchene’s first-period score and added a goal of his own in the second period.
They both helped pull the Avs out of their early-game malaise and get them back on track with an important Central Division victory in a loud and raucous MTS Centre.
“I was impressed with our team,” Avalanche coach Patrick Roy said. “Our guys kept playing as a team, and that’s the dangerous part of this because sometimes when you get behind you have a tendency to go individually, and that’s not what we did tonight. We [stuck] to the plan; we [stuck] together, played it as a team, and I think we just ran it back.
“We never tried to think the game was over. Actually, it was the opposite. We were just making sure that we [kept] battling, and, obviously, the [first-period] goal by ‘Dutchy’ was, in my opinion, a good turnaround because [the Jets] were flying and their crowd was right behind them, and when we scored, ‘Whoop!’ Calmed everybody down.”
Duchene’s first score came 15:08 into the first period, 10 minutes after Winninpeg’s quick scores.
He and O’Reilly had a nice neutral-zone give-and-go, with O’Reilly quickly pushing the puck toward the blue line, where Duchene was able to control it and throw it past Jets netminder Ondrej Pavelec.
“I think you saw by my reaction how excited I was,” said Duchene, who followed the score with his familiar one-knee-down fist pump. “It felt good to get that one. Obviously, I was hurt and sick (flu), and it took me a little while to get feeling good again, so hopefully I’m back on track.”
O’Reilly then tied the game at 14:47 of the second period when he was unmarked and received a behind-the-net pass from Duchene and tossed it past Pavelec from about eight feet away.
“The nice thing about playing with ‘Dutchy’ and MacKinnon is they create so much, and they’ve got such great speed,” O’Reilly said. “To be successful on our line I’ve got to be a big body and create as much room as I can, and I just kind of went to the net and ‘Dutchy’ made a great spin and hit me. Luckily for me, I just got it off on net, and luckily it went in.”
Duchene put the Avalanche ahead 3-2 with three seconds left in the second period when he scored off a rebound of a Nathan MacKinnon shot. His three-point effort gave him back the team scoring lead with 24 points on the season (14 goals/10 assists), and O’Reilly, with 19 points (10 goals/nine assists), moved into third on that list, trailing Gabriel Landeskog (22 points).
“After that [first] period we needed to regroup,” O’Reilly said, “and if you look at that last 10 minutes of that first period, we stayed calm, even though being down a couple goals. We stuck to our game plan; we stayed within our structure. We kept working at it, and that second period it paid off for us. We got to the net, we made plays, and it’s something we’ve got to keep doing."
- The Avalanche improved to 3-0 this season in games extending beyond regulation and 2-0 in games reaching a shootout.
- The victory pushed the Avs into a tie with Colorado’s 2000-01 and 1994-95 teams for the most wins through 30 games in franchise history. The win also pushed Colorado to 8-3 this season in Central Division matchups.
- Cody McLeod was on the ice for 7:44 Thursday, playing in his home province for the third time in his career.
McLeod hails from Binscarth, Manitoba, which is about 205 miles (330 kilometers) from Winnipeg’s MTS Centre, and he has three assists and is plus-3 in eight career games vs. the Jets, his boyhood favorites.
“I grew up watching them,” McLeod said Wednesday. “They’ve got a great atmosphere, great arena, and the fans are pretty loud. … When they left [in 1996], they never thought they were going to get a team back, so it’s pretty exciting that they did.”
- Brad Malone and Jan Hejda were the Avalanche’s lineup scratches Thursday, with Malone counting as the only “healthy scratch” of the two. Hejda was scratched for the fourth straight game after he suffered a knee injury a week ago at Edmonton. He hasn’t traveled with the team since but will potentially be in the lineup Saturday night when the Avs host the Wild at Pepsi Center.