After two straight afternoon road games, the Colorado Avalanche returned home on Wednesday night to battle the Florida Panthers at the Pepsi Center in Denver. Despite trailing for most of the game, the youthful Avalanche demonstrated resilience by completing a great comeback to defeat the Panthers in a 4-3 overtime thriller. Peter Mueller, who scored two goals with one assist, was the catalyst for the Avalanche rally.
“I feel on top of the world right now,” said Mueller after the game. “I can’t explain how good it feels to get that one out of the way.”
The two tallies by Mueller were his first goals since 2010, when he suffered from a severe head injury with concussion-like symptoms that forced him to miss all of last year’s action and a portion of this season as well. Although he has played solid at moments since his return, Wednesday night was his breakout game of the season.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve scored a goal. Hard work really pays off…I can’t tell you how much this means to me. It just feels good to get those two points,” said Mueller of helping his team come from behind to beat the Panthers.
Five minutes into the first period Florida began to dominate the action. The Panthers unleashed a series of lengthy attacks as they effectively passed the puck around the Avs defenders and sent several good shots at the net. Avalanche goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere withstood the attacks with some excellent saves. However, the constant pressure on the young Avs led to a penalty, and at the 13:00 mark Shane O’Brien was sent to the box for roughing.
During the power play, the Panthers dished out a flurry of dizzying passes around the Avs zone, leading to a fight for a loose puck in front of the net. Panther center Marcel Goc won the battle and poked the puck past Giguere for the game’s first goal.
The Avalanche worked to respond, bringing offensive pressure into Panther territory and launching a few good shots on net. Florida goaltender, Jose Theodore, made some impressive saves to protect the Panther’s lead, and the Avs went to the locker-room down 1-0.
Seven minutes into the second frame, the Avs generated a solid wave of offensive pressure. During the attack, defenseman Erik Johnson launched a rocket from the point, the shot bounced off of Theodore’s padding, and a well-positioned Mueller slapped the puck through the five-hole and into the net to tie the game.
“I realized that I had a little bit of time,” said Mueller of the goal, “and so I tried to pick a spot where I know I can fit it in. I saw the five-hole there and it just went in.”
Sloppy execution combined with strong goaltending kept the score deadlocked until the final moments of the second period.
With just one minute left in the frame, Panther forward Stephen Weiss charged into the Avs zone, skated right through the Avs defenders, and slammed into the leg of Giguere while falling to the ice. During the collision, the puck slithered passed the line for a goal. Despite a lengthy review by the refs and echoing boos by the Denver crowd, the controversial goal stood and the Panthers were up 2-1 at the second break.
Just 20 seconds into the final stanza, the Panthers went on a quick attack and Tomas Kopecky scored with a wrist shot to provide some cushion to the Florida lead.
A ‘too many men on the ice’ penalty gave the Avs a power play. While enjoying the advantage and passing the puck around the zone, Avs center Ryan O’Reilly delivered a perfect pass to Mueller who, from the top of the left circle, unleashed a blazing slap shot that flew past Theodore and into the net to cut the lead in half at 3-2.
With the Avs still down one and only three minutes left to play, the Avs brought the puck into the Panther zone and Mueller launched a long shot from the right sideboards. The puck bounced off of Theodore’s chest and a well-positioned Paul Stastny promptly slapped the rebound into the back of the net to tie the game and force overtime.
The Panthers controlled the action for most of the extra period, as they sustained an offensive surge that led to several scoring opportunities, but Giguere rose to the challenge and made some great saves to extend the game.
Then, with just one minute left to play, the Avalanche brought a sudden wave of pressure into the Panther’s zone. Avalanche defenseman Ryan Wilson passed the puck beside him to Ryan O’Reilly and, from the right circle, O’Reilly released a laser-beam wrist shot passed Theodore to complete the comeback and seal the win for the Avs.
“It was an exciting finish to the game,” said Avalanche head coach Joe Sacco. “I really liked our resiliency there at the end: I thought we showed a lot of character. We had a little talk after the second period and I had a good feeling. We didn’t want to let this one slip by, and I thought our guys responded very well.”
The most impressive aspect of the Avs victory was that they played with tremendous determination as they resiliently fought back to overcome the two-goal deficit and to win the game in overtime.
“It was tough that they got a goal there in the third right off the bat,” said Mueller,” but it shows that we don’t stop; we don’t stop trying and we don’t stop working until the final buzzer.”
“We felt it,” said Giguere. “After they scored that third goal, our guys were still working hard and we were still trying to spend some time in their zone, and we never quit. We wanted to get that win, it was an important game for us, and we did a great job of responding tonight.
Giguere played an excellent game between the pipes, as he fought hard to keep the Avs in the game by making many difficult saves and by protecting the net against incessant attacks.
“We had big goaltending tonight,” said Coach Sacco. “[Giguere] made two timely saves down the stretch and in overtime, which gave us a chance to hang around and a chance to win it in overtime.”
“I felt pretty good,” said Giguere. “I had my legs, and I had lots of energy tonight all the way through the game. I was seeing the puck well, overall I was ready to compete and I’m just happy we got the big win.”
The star of the game was clearly Mueller, who after a long and arduous recovery, and after not scoring a goal since 2010, tallied two goals and an assist to help stimulate the Avalanche rally.
“I can’t say thank you enough to this organization,” said Mueller. “Everyone here has been great, and it’s truly been an unbelievable thing for me.”
“It’s good to see a guy like Peter Mueller getting back in there and playing with the type of energy that he played with tonight,” said Coach Sacco. “His game has been progressively getting better every time he’s in there, and tonight is another example. So, good for him: he certainly worked hard tonight and came up with a couple of big ones for us.”
Regarding Sacco’s inspirational second intermission speech to rally the troops, the Coach said, “There was a feeling in the room that we weren’t going to be denied and that we were going to do everything we could to try to get those two points tonight.”
“It was an important game,” said Giguere. “It was huge for us. We need to get our points at home to not have so much pressure on the road.”
The Avalanche hit the road next for a brief west-coast road trip that starts on Saturday in LA, when the Avs will face off against the Kings.