Ryan O’Reilly quickly turned a forgettable game into one he won’t soon forget.
The Colorado forward stole the puck at center ice, glided in and scored on a slap shot with 1.2 seconds remaining in overtime, lifting the Avalanche to a 4-3 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday night.
Until his winner, O’Reilly was struggling. He was stonewalled on a breakaway chance late in regulation and missed a wide-open net earlier in the game.
But with a last-gasp shot, O’Reilly turned around his frustrating evening.
”It was a lucky break for me,” said O’Reilly, who scored his second career overtime goal. ”I don’t think I deserved a score tonight because my hands weren’t there. But that’s the way it goes sometimes.”
With time winding down, O’Reilly took a big gamble. He reached his stick out to poke the puck away from charging Hurricanes defenseman Justin Faulk, a successful maneuver that had O’Reilly off to the races. He skated alone down the left side and, with his internal clock telling him to shoot, sent a hard liner through goalie Cam Ward’s legs.
O’Reilly raised his arms as he cast a quick glance at the scoreboard, just to make sure there was still time left.
There was — 1.2 seconds to spare even.
”I don’t know how he knew there was time left or if he just decided to shoot it,” said Paul Stastny, who had a goal in regulation. ”I think he surprised the goalie. He had so many chances on Ward tonight. He shot everywhere, so why not try another one and eventually it might squeeze in and it was a good goal.”
For the Hurricanes, it was just another close call. They’ve earned at least a point in eight of their last nine games but still reside in the basement of the Eastern Conference.
”We’re definitely on the right track,” said Eric Staal, who had a goal and an assist. ”We’re in every game. We’re playing hard. If we keep doing what we’re doing, I think we’ll get rewarded.”
Just not here, in a city that keeps haunting the Hurricanes. The Carolina franchise hasn’t won in Denver since Feb. 9, 1996, when the team was the Hartford Whalers.
”Really? That’s a long time,” Staal said. ”But we don’t come out here very often. And back in the day, they had some pretty good players with Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg, some pretty good teams.
”But tonight was a night I thought we could get it done, get that win. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get the job done.”
That was due in large part to the play of goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who stopped a season-high 39 shots.
With Colorado attempting to claw its way back into the playoff chase, Giguere has been seeing a lot of time in the net.
Giguere, who was brought in to serve as a mentor to the younger Semyon Varlamov, has played so well that it’s been hard to get him out of the goal. He’s among the NHL leaders in goals-against and save percentage.
The 34-year-old Giguere faced the franchise that drafted him with the 13th overall in 1995, demonstrating the form that led his selection.
”I thought we threw a lot of really good chances at him,” Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller said of Giguere. ”We’d like to say we didn’t bury him, but we’ve got to give him credit. He made some good reflex saves here tonight.”
Ward was just as splendid in net, robbing O’Reilly of a goal late in the game when Ward stuck out his pad as the Avalanche forward cruised in on a breakaway.
Gabriel Landeskog and Milan Hejduk also scored for Colorado. The Avalanche have won two in a row following a five-game skid.
”That may be entertaining for the fans, but it’s not entertaining for a coach,” Avalanche coach Joe Sacco said. ”We did a pretty good job of keeping it in the position we were in as far as keeping it tied and then the big goal by Ryan. We’re trying to get points right now and any way that you can get them, you’ll take them.”
With his second-period goal, Hejduk snapped a five-game drought. His new pairing on a line with Stastny and David Jones has each of them hitting on all cylinders. The trio has accounted for 11 points over the last two games.
”We have a lot of confidence,” Stastny said.
”I don’t think that was our best performance tonight, but we found a way to get it done,” O’Reilly said. ”And to get it done like that gives us confidence. It’s a great feeling and let’s keep it going.”
NOTES: The Avalanche play Saturday night in St. Louis. They’re 2-4 this season in the second game of a back-to-back. … The Avs wore camouflage jerseys in warmups as part of their ”Military Appreciation Night.” Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta, a Medal of Honor recipient, was honored before the game. He’s from nearby Fort Collins. … Carolina concludes a three-game road swing on Monday in Montreal. … Hurricanes F Tuomo Ruutu had two assists.