DENVER – On the strength of a tipped shot in overtime, John-Michael Liles changed the course of his slumping team.
Liles redirected Ryan Wilson’s shot at 2:59 of the extra period, and the Colorado Avalanche beat the San Jose Sharks 5-4 on Sunday night to gain ground in the race for the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot.
“I’m not a guy that gets deflections and tips of pucks a whole lot to get it on net,” said Liles, a defenceman. “I circled through the slot and Wilson made a great play to put it through there. I saw him shooting toward the net the whole time.”
San Jose goalie Evgeni Nabokov said the sudden change of direction made it tough.
“He came from behind and when the shot came, he deflected it,” Nabokov said. “It was a good play. I think if teams score goals like that, we can live with that. But when we basically give them momentum, it’s not acceptable.”
The victory came after San Jose and then Colorado gave up two-goal leads. But it was the Avalanche who snapped their season-high four-game losing streak to take a two-point lead over ninth-place Calgary, a 4-1 loser at Chicago on Sunday. Colorado has four games left, one more than Calgary.
“We had to have a win and got it and we got two huge points,” Liles said. “The bottom line is we are going to have to win more games to finish the season. Win games and we will be in position for the playoffs.”
It was the eighth time this season Colorado has overcome a two-goal deficit to win.
“Our team showed a lot of character, especially after being down to start the game,” Colorado coach Joe Sacco said. “We hung in there and to come away with two points after giving up the lead speaks a lot about our room. We regrouped and got back to playing our game.”
The Sharks remained the top seed in the West, but the loss allowed Washington to clinch the Presidents’ Trophy for the best regular-season record.
Peter Mueller, who had his third two-goal game since joining the Avalanche in a March 3 trade with Phoenix, left the game dazed after crashing into the boards following a check by San Jose defenceman Rob Blake.
Down 2-0, Colorado scored four straight goals, going in front on Mueller’s second goal of the night.
Matt Duchene set up the go-ahead score with a rush on net. He broke up the charge with a drop pass to the trailing Mueller, who wristed a shot from the slot that got over Evgeni Nabokov’s glove at 18:07 of the second.
Paul Statsny scored his 19th goal of the season 20 seconds into the third period, a power-play score, to put the Avalanche up by two goals.
But San Jose tied 4-4 on Patrick Marleau’s 43rd goal of the season with 11:47 left. Joe Pavelski started the rally with a rebound shot with 5:19 remaining.
Mueller, who has scored nine of his 12 goals this season while with the Avalanche, tied it 2-2 earlier in the second with a shot from the upper right circle.
The Avalanche got on the board with a breakaway at 13:41 of the first period. After a San Jose turnover, Ryan O’Reilly rocketed a lead pass to the streaking Kyle Quincey, who beat Nabokov on the stick side with a wrist shot.
San Jose took a 2-0 lead on first-period goals by Douglas Murray and Jamie McGuinn 56 seconds apart. Murray buried a slap shot from the left point, and McGuinn wristed a shot from the left circle that got past goalie Craig Anderson.
NOTES: Murray has a career high four goals. … Colorado defenceman Adam Foote assisted on Mueller’s second-period goal for his 300th career point. … Mueller has 19 points in 15 games with the Avalanche. … The Sharks and Avalanche split the four-game season series. … Liles had an OT goal for the second time in his career.