Ryan O'Reilly scored at 3:55 of overtime to cap a dramatic comeback from a late third period two-goal deficit, lifting the Colorado Avalanche to a 4-3 victory over the Florida Panthers Wednesday night at Pepsi Center. Ryan Wilson carried the puck to the Florida blue line then dished off to O'Reilly, who snapped a wrist shot from the top of the right circle that trickled between the pads of goaltender Jose Theodore and into the net for the game-winner.
It was the first time the Panthers has squandered a game in which they led after two periods, as they had been 11-0-3 coming into action Wednesday. By virtue of the Washington Capitals' 3-0 win over the Montreal Canadiens, Florida falls into second place and now trails the Caps by a point for the Southeast Division lead for the first time since early in the season. Posting a 3-6-4 mark in their last 13 contests, the Panthers find themselves clinging to the eighth and final postseason spot in the East.
Similarly for Colorado, the two points were huge, pushing them past the slumping Minnesota Wild for the eighth spot in the West.
It has been a long road back for Avs' right winger Peter Mueller, but he was a big difference-maker on this night. After missing 40 games due to the fourth concussion of his career, the 23-year-old scored two goals and added an assist for his first points of the year in his fourth game back.
Just when it seemed that the Cats had the game in hand late in the third, the Avalanche tied the game. Paul Stastny took a pass from Mueller and skated along the right wing side and flipped a wide-angle shot towards the Florida net. Theodore made the initial stop, but Stastny was able to whack home the rebound for his 13th goal of the year with just 3:17 left in regulation to tie the score at 3-3.
Colorado had gotten back in the game courtesy of a too many men on the ice minor against Florida. On the ensuing power play, Mueller scored his second goal of the night on a wicked one-timer from the left faceoff circle. O'Reilly sent Mueller a flat pass and the winger made no mistake, sending a blazing shot past Theodore as rookie Gabriel Landeskog jumped to obscure the netminder's vision to bring the Avs back to within one at 3-2 just 3:36 into the third frame.
The Panthers added to their 2-1 margin very early in the third. Marcel Goc sent a shot towards the Colorado net, bounced off Mikael Samuelsson in front of Jean-Sebastien Giguere and deflected to the slot area. Tomas Kopecky got there a split second before an Avalanche defender and knocked the puck into the gaping cage for his sixth of the season just 20 seconds into the third stanza to increase the Florida lead to 3-1.
Stephen Weiss gave the Panthers a 2-1 lead late in the middle frame on an outstanding individual effort. Taking a feed from Brian Campbell, he stickhandled his way between Avs' defensemen, and as he fell to the ice, poked the puck past Giguere for his 12th goal of the season at 18:48.
Mueller tied the game at 1-1 with his first goal of the year early in the second period, when he was given both time and space in the slot area. He sent a shot between Theodore's pads at 6:50 to knot the score at 1-1.
Florida was given a gift late in the opening period. With Shane O'Brien in the penalty box for roughing and the Panthers buzzing around the Colorado net, it appeared that in his haste to clear the puck out of harms way, defenseman Ryan O'Byrne actually accidentally tapped the puck past Giguere and into the far corner and into his own net. Goc was credited with his fifth of the year, giving Florida a 1-0 lead at 14:51 of the opening stanza.
Theodore made 40 saves in his first game back from a knee injury, but took the loss to fall to 14-8-5.
Giguere stopped 26 Cats' shots in improving his record to 11-6-1 for the season.