ANAHEIM, Calif. – When Peter Mueller’s looping shot from the blue-line somehow eluded Jonas Hiller, the Colorado Avalanche’s newest forward had trouble believing he could celebrate.
For a guy who felt he hadn’t got a bounce all season in Phoenix, Mueller’s goal was a breakthrough – and a key reason Colorado was able to snap the longest home winning streak in the Ducks’ history.
Matt Duchene scored the go-ahead goal with 11:51 to play, Chris Stewart had a goal and two assists, and the Avalanche ended the Ducks’ 11-game home roll with a 4-3 victory Wednesday night.
The Avalanche are gambling on Mueller after trading second-leading scorer Wojtek Wolski to the Coyotes for the struggling second-year pro. Playing his third game in three nights, Mueller immediately took a key role on Colorado’s power play – and he tied it late in the second period with the flukiest of goals.
“At this point, I don’t care how it goes in,” said Mueller, who looked gratefully bewildered when his shot went in. “You throw it on the net, sometimes it goes in. I feel great just letting my teammates know immediately that I can contribute. It feels unbelievable being in a new atmosphere.”
U.S. Olympian Paul Stastny had three assists for the Avalanche. T.J. Galiardi also scored and Craig Anderson made 31 saves while Colorado rallied from a 2-0 deficit and a two-shot first period with three straight goals on the power play.
They eventually held off the Ducks, who returned from the Olympic break with six weary medallists in their lineup.
“After that first period, we realized we couldn’t sit back,” Colorado coach Joe Sacco said. “We had to put more passion into our game. We got more involved physically, and that’s what kept us on our toes late.”
Anaheim’s Teemu Selanne scored his 598th NHL goal, and captain Scott Niedermayer’s power-play goal with 3:05 left trimmed Colorado’s lead, but the Ducks – who won 14 of 20 before the break – ended up with their first loss at the Honda Center since Dec. 6.
Jason Blake had a goal and an assist, and Hiller made 21 saves as Anaheim wasted a chance to move into ninth place in the Western Conference standings. The Ducks’ medallists might have needed more than two or three days off after the high-pressure tournament, with Canadian centre Ryan Getzlaf looking particularly gassed while missing a handful of point-blank scoring chances late.
“We worked hard before the break to get into a position where we could at least chase a playoff spot,” Niedermayer said. “That’s why we’re so disappointed we let that one slip away. We were skating and taking care of the puck in the first period. It just all of a sudden seemed to go their way.”
Anaheim’s home winning streak was the longest in franchise history, and tied with Washington for the longest in the NHL this season.
Selanne also scored in his first game since becoming the leading scorer in Olympic hockey. The 18th-leading goal-scorer in NHL history converted an easy shot after a no-look pass from Blake – but Anaheim struggled mightily after that goal.
“We played one period of hockey,” Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle said. “We didn’t play very well after the first period. They turned it up, and we stopped doing what we needed to do and started getting quick. We played too soft around the puck. Some individuals had bad nights.”
The Ducks played with just five defencemen after a flurry of trades in the previous 48 hours. Anaheim bolstered its struggling blue-line by acquiring defencemen Lubomir Visnovsky from Edmonton and Aaron Ward from Carolina, shipping Ryan Whitney to the Oilers just one day after he returned from winning a silver medal with the U.S. team in Vancouver.
The Avalanche also were active at the deadline, reacquiring veteran Stephane Yelle before swapping 48-point scorer Wolski for Mueller, who had just 17 points in 54 games with Phoenix. Colorado is betting a change of scenery will inspire the former No. 8 overall draft pick.
“His first game, new team, new surroundings, I thought he did a real nice job,” Sacco said. “He created some offence like we expected him to. He did a good job defensively. I just think he’ll continue to improve and get better.”
After his goal, Mueller took a foolish tripping penalty early in the third period, ruining a power play for the Avalanche – but Anaheim’s Steve Eminger created the power play that led to Duchene’s score by flipping the puck over the glass moments later for a delay-of-game call.
NOTES: Anaheim also exchanged backup goalies with Calgary, getting Curtis McElhinney for Vesa Toskala, who never played in a game for the Ducks after arriving in a trade with Toronto in late January. … RW Dan Sexton was back in Anaheim’s lineup for the first time since Jan. 29 after spending the last month in the minors. He scored 18 points in 28 games earlier this season.