That’s the kind of game that the Colorado Avalanche has been playing of late and it was certainly on display in Tuesday’s 3-2 shootout win at American Airlines Center in Dallas.
Down 2-0 in the third period to the red-hot Stars, the Avs needed that kind of ferocious, all or nothing-type play to reenergize the club. They got it from center Ryan O'Reilly.
Entering a key draw against Tyler Seguin in the Dallas zone, O’Reilly had to tune out everything that had come before. There were few faceoff successes, even less shots on goal, and the puck just didn’t seem to do what the Avalanche wanted.
Putting his stick down in the circle, O’Reilly was poised to turn the game around with a swift pull of his arms. The 23-year-old center won the draw clean back to defenseman Nick Holden, who then dished it straight across the blue line to Brad Stuart. With his window for a clear shot quickly closing, Stuart fired the puck wide of Kari Lehtonen in the Dallas net.
O’Reilly finished what he started when he scooped up the biscuit off the bounce and buried it behind a sprawling Lehtonen, having lost his defender, Seguin, in the faceoff circle.
The tally galvanized the Avalanche, kicking a third-period comeback into action. Playoff hockey.
The Avs tied the game in their usual, nail-bitingly late fashion on a Tyson Barrie shot through traffic with just 20 seconds left in regulation. With goaltender Semyon Varlamov on the bench for the extra attacker, the Avs did what they do so often: equalized with the game on the line.
That isn’t to say that Varlamov didn’t play a prime role in Colorado’s victory. Instead, the 26-year-old netminder—who stopped 29 shots in regulation—got more time to shine, turning aside one more attempt in overtime before taking the game on his shoulders in the shootout.
“That’s the way we were last year. I hate to bring last year back, but this is something we were doing really well,” Roy said of the push for at least one point. “We never gave up, and we were very resilient. I think that’s what we did tonight.”
It should come as no surprise that two teams fighting for a better spot in the standings would drag out a shootout as long as possible. The skills competition went 11 rounds in all, both teams scoring and both goaltenders turning aside players in a bid for the two-point reward.
Maxime Talbot proved the hero for Colorado, scoring to seal the win as the 22nd shooter. His tally came after both Daniel Briere and Gabriel Landeskog put pucks away to keep the game alive.
“It’s actually my first shootout goal, and I think there’s a reason for it. But I’ll definitely take it,” said Talbot. “It’s nice to shoot for the win instead of shooting for the tie. So you’ve got to give credit to Varly, obviously, and Danny and Gabe to score the big goals to keep us in there.
“It’s definitely a great feeling ‘cause it’s for the extra point, and at the end of the season… these points are going to matter. I get maybe a little bit of credit tonight but… it’s a huge team effort, and I think tonight was a huge two points for this hockey club.”
While the start isn’t what Roy was looking for from his squad, there’s no arguing with the way the team managed to close the game out.
“That’s an important win for us, especially the way [Dallas] played in the first two periods. They were really sharp. They didn’t give us much. Every time we had some good looks, they had great sticks. They blocked some of our shots,” said Roy. “It’s nice to rally after giving that late goal in the second period. Our guys showed some character, and obviously we pulled our goalie at the end and we scored. In overtime, we had plenty of chances. I think we had nine shots on net and we dominated the overtime, which was good for us.”
Colorado faces Dallas two more times this month, and has seven more games against Central Division opponents in what will be the most crucial stretch of the season.
Next up though is the Detroit Red Wings at home on Thursday at Pepsi Center.
PULLING THE GOALIE
The last four times that the Colorado Avalanche has pulled the goalie at the end of the game have each ended in success. The club has tallied each time, speaking to the ability to continue competing until the game is truly over.
“When we pull the goalie, everybody works for a goal, and it’s been working—I think four times in the last month or so. It’s nice to get those come from behind wins, and we’ll definitely take the two points tonight, for sure,” Talbot said of the propensity to take advantage of the extra-skater scenario. “We’ve battled a lot this year. Nothing was easy, and I think it’s not going to be easy until the end of the season. We’re going to have to battle for a playoff spot, and we know, in tough spots, that we can actually come from behind or keep a lead and I think that’s big for this hockey club.”
Late in the second period with the clock ticking down, Avalanche defenseman Nate Guenin looked to make a pass up the ice that was picked off by the Stars. One quick pass, from green sweater to green sweater, and Dallas was up 2-0 entering the second intermission.
It would have been easy for Colorado’s coaching staff to sit Guenin after that, looking down upon his blunder with disdain as the game was so paramount to the playoff push. Instead, they told him to get it back.
“We gave him a tap on the back and said ‘Hey, it’s okay. Let’s get going,’” said Roy after the game.
You can’t learn without making mistakes, and so Roy and company showed their confidence in their defender by allowing him to redeem himself in the remaining portions of the game.
“Everybody makes mistakes. You think I never made a mistake. I remember one in the playoffs in 2001. It’s part of the game, and it’s how you bounce back,” said Roy. “That’s what you want to see as a coach. We have a lot of confidence in our players, and we’re certainly not going to punish them because they make a mistake. It’s contrary. We’re going to help them and we’re going to put them back and we’re going to say ‘let’s get going’ and that’s fine.
“That’s exactly what our guys did. This is a team that sticks together. This is a team that supports each other, and they proved it tonight.”
Guenin got a chance at redemption late by reaching over a Stars forward in a prime shooting position in the Avalanche slot and knocking the puck off his stick at the last second.