DENVER -- Not only does Max Pacioretty know how to score goals, he's made a habit of doing it at the most opportune time.
Pacioretty continued his clutch play at Pepsi Center on Monday, scoring on a 2-on-1 rush with 6:06 remaining in the third period to give the Montreal Canadiens a 4-3 win against the Colorado Avalanche in the opener of a four-game road trip.
Eight of his team-leading 12 goals have come in the third period.
"I think that's got to be a team stat as well," Pacioretty said. "I think most of our team's goals come in the third as well. It is what it is. I think the way we play, we want to grind down teams, play simple and wait for our chances. And I think the more we do that, the more you catch teams slipping a little bit as the game goes on."
Pacioretty was in the left circle when he beat goalie Calvin Pickard to the glove side after Jan Hejda, the lone Avalanche defender back, slid to break up a potential pass to Dale Weise.
"I was looking to pass, but the defenseman went down, and that's when I have to shoot it," Pacioretty said. "I'm looking to get Weise a goal there, but at the end of the day, if we don't bury it, I'm coming back to the bench upset with myself."
Defensemen P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov each had a goal and an assist as the Canadiens (17-7-2, 36 points) broke a three-game losing streak and kept pace with the first-place Tampa Bay Lightning (17-6-2, 36 points) in the Atlantic Division. The Lightning have played one fewer game.
The Avalanche (9-11-5) failed to reach the .500 mark for the first time this season.
The Canadiens were able to mount an outnumbered attack for the winning goal because Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson pinched in the Montreal end and center Nathan MacKinnon didn't cover for him.
"I don't want to single out guys, but on the last play [Johnson] pinched, [MacKinnon] knew he was there and he should have taken over for the D," Avalanche coach Patrick Roy said. "I could name plenty other [similar situations]. You can't lose games like this at the end of the game. Our game management needs to be a lot better. Our guys know that if the D pinch, they have to be there for them, they have to take over as a defenseman.
"We gave up three 2-on-1s in that sequence. Yes, we want to be an offensive team. Yes, we want to go, but we have to think a little better. And some of our guys on the top two lines didn't perform at the level we need to win the hockey game."
Pickard, making his third consecutive start, finished with 26 saves.
"It was a great shot by a great player," he said of Pacioretty's goal, "but I've been playing pretty well and I really wanted to get that to overtime at the very least. Definitely a good shot, but I definitely would have liked to make the save for the team."
The Avalanche took 2-1 and 3-2 leads in the second period, but the Canadiens came back to tie the game each time.
"What makes our team good is whether we're up one or down one, we don't panic," Subban said. "You can't get too high or too low. [Pacioretty] stepped up and scored a big goal, and that's what we needed."
Subban blasted a shot from the left point that eluded Pickard low to the far corner at 15:16 to make it 3-3 after Lars Eller won a faceoff from Maxime Talbot, who broke his stick on the draw.
The Avalanche went ahead 3-2 at 12:01 on a goal by Tyson Barrie, who moved down the right wing on a 4-on-1 rush that became a 4-on-2. He took a shot past sliding defenseman Tom Gilbert that went into the net off Brandon Prust or goalie Carey Price.
Markov scored a power-play goal at 6:28 to tie the game 2-2. Alex Galchenyuk found Markov skating back door on the left side for a shot into a half-open net with 13 seconds remaining on Nate Guenin's slashing penalty.
"The backdoor play, I didn't read it very well," Pickard said. "I went down a little bit on the post, and the guy made a good pass backdoor, but if I'm on my feet, I have a better chance to make that save. The Subban shot, it's a great shot but I need to come up with that save. I lost it. I need to follow that puck better."
Matt Duchene rang a shot off the far post at 9:50 of the second period after skating down the right wing and by Canadiens defenseman Alexei Emelin. Price wasn't sure at first if the puck went in the net.
"I heard the initial post and I thought I heard a second post," he said. "I felt it land between my legs. Got lucky."
Ryan O'Reilly put the Avalanche in front 35 seconds into the second after Duchene carried the puck down the right wing and passed to Alex Tanguay behind the net. Tanguay fed O'Reilly for a shot that beat Price to the short side.
Colorado's Daniel Briere tied the game 1-1 against his former team with 33.5 seconds remaining in the first period. He took the puck away from Montreal defenseman Mike Weaver in the left corner, skated into the slot and fired the puck by Price's right arm for his fourth goal in the past six games and sixth of the season.
"I got a good bounce, I was able to keep it alive and walk in," Briere said. "I think Carey -- just shooting on him last year (in practice) -- he thought I was going glove side. That's usually where I would shoot on him, and I surprised him when the shot went the other way."
Jiri Sekac opened the scoring at 8:09 with a shot from the left circle while on the rush. The Canadiens were outscored 21-7 in the first period in their first 25 games.
Pickard made a big save at 16:08 against Pacioretty, who stripped the puck from Gabriel Landeskog inside the Avalanche blue line. Pickard made a pad stop after Pacioretty moved in on a breakaway.
"It doesn't happen too often that players like Landeskog have turnovers like that," Pacioretty said. "I was pretty upset not being able to convert on that, but the game goes on and we got some more chances. And luckily I got one to go there late."