ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Colorado Avalanche coach Patrick Roy decided about halfway through the game against the Minnesota Wild to put Matt Duchene and Ryan O'Reilly together.
While the line change didn't pay off right away, it did in the end as the two teamed up for the go-ahead goal with 7:16 remaining in regulation of Colorado's 4-2 win.
It was O'Reilly, returning from a shoulder injury that cost him two games, who was the beneficiary of a Duchene pass that set up the goal that broke a 2-2 tie. Duchene got a pass from O'Reilly in the left corner and returned the puck quickly to O'Reilly near the right post. With goaltender Niklas Backstrom already in his butterfly to take away the low shot, O'Reilly floated a high backhander over the goaltender's glove for his 16th of the season.
"We both really like playing with each other and really understand the way each other play," Duchene said. "We like that give-and-go hockey, try and jump into holes and that's how we got the game-winner tonight."
O'Reilly's first goal put Colorado up 2-0 in the second period. His two-goal effort was especially big for Colorado, which played a man short after forward Paul Stastny went down with a leg injury in the second period. The newly named U.S. Olympian did not return, and Avalanche coach Patrick Roy classified his injury as day-to-day.
"A character win for us," Roy said. "When you're losing players like this and we keep going, don't look behind. … Both teams have been hit pretty hard with injuries. It was an important game for both teams, we're glad we are on the winning side."
Both of O'Reilly's goals came from within eight feet of the net. On his first, he was able to sneak a shot through Backstrom's five-hole that just trickled across the goal line. On the winner, Backstrom cut off the bottom of the net but O'Reilly simply found open space.
"Coming in there, [Wild forward Mikael Granlund] had pressure on me on my forehand," O'Reilly said. "A lot of times, bringing over that quick shot, [Backstrom] is going to have that angle. I was just trying to beat him to the spot. Hopefully he wasn't going to be there."
Maxime Talbot hit the empty net with 1:10 to go for Colorado, which was playing its first road game after going 4-1-2 on a seven-game homestand that ended with a 2-1 overtime loss to the New York Islanders on Friday.
The regulation win could end up being a big boost to Colorado in their attempt to return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2010. The Avalanche lead the Wild by eight points for the third and final automatic qualifier spot in the Central Division. Colorado also has two games in hand.
"We want to keep them behind us," Duchene said. "We have games in hand, we have a lot of points in hand. We want to keep them as far behind us as possible. We're happy with where we're at right now."
Minnesota had won four straight and was back at Xcel Energy Center after road wins against the Los Angeles Kings and Phoenix Coyotes.
"We weren't giving up much," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "Maybe we could have done a few more things to create here and there, but we had the puck a majority of the time. It's frustrating, not to get at least a point there for sure."
After 29 scoreless minutes, the teams combined for four goals in less than six minutes midway through the second period.
Colorado opened the scoring by taking advantage of a 3-on-2 rush. Gabriel Landeskog passed to Talbot on his left at the Wild blue line and went to the front of the net. Talbot passed back Paul Stastny who dished to Landeskog at the doorstep. He worked the puck to his backhand and beat Backstrom at 9:07 for his 13th of the season.
O'Reilly made it 2-0 at 13:25 but the Wild quickly got even thanks to Charlie Coyle and Dany Heatley.
The two worked a pretty give-and-go of their own at the Colorado blue line, Heatley fed Coyle with a pretty saucer pass in the slot and Coyle slipped the puck through Semyon Varlamov's five-hole at 14:19.
Coyle and Heatley combined again 40 seconds later for the tying goal. Heatley set up behind the net, took a pass from Nate Prosser at the right half wall and one-touched a feed to Coyle in the slot. He one-timed a shot over Varlamov's blocker for his sixth of the season. The two-goal game was Coyle's first in the NHL.
"It was a good shift by the guys before us and we carried it over," Coyle said. "Some big plays, especially by my linemates. It was nice to switch the momentum at that point."
Minnesota outshot Colorado 13-7 in the third and 27-18 for the game, but couldn't solve Varlamov late. He made 24 saves to improve to 21-8-5 this season and 8-0-5 in his past 13 starts.
Backstrom made 14 stops for Minnesota but the loss snapped a season-long personal three-game winning streak.