DENVER – The new guy rescued the game and quite possibly the season, too.
Peter Mueller had one of the two shootout goals and the scuffling Colorado Avalanche beat the Los Angeles Kings 4-3 on Wednesday night to end a three-game winless streak.
All Mueller has done since coming over from Phoenix in a deadline deal is find a way to pitch in. This, though, was one of his biggest contribution yet.
The Avalanche have been in a free fall in the Western Conference standings since the Olympic break. They needed something, anything, to go their way.
But Colorado squandered a two-goal lead, allowing the Kings to tie it with 1:21 remaining when Alexander Frolov sent a shot over Craig Anderson’s shoulder.
In the shootout, Mueller got things rolling by sneaking a shot through the pads of Erik Ersberg, who came on in relief of starting goalie Jonathan Quick after Quick allowed three goals in the opening period.
Chris Stewart followed by beating Ersberg with a shot to the glove side.
Anderson made it stand up, stopping Anze Kopitar and then receiving a little help when Ryan Smyth’s wrist shot clanged off the goal post to end the game.
The Avalanche moved into a tie with Nashville in points with 89 – two more than eighth-place Detroit and six ahead of ninth-place Calgary in the race for the eight conference playoff spots.
“Huge getting the two points,” Mueller said. “We couldn’t settle for anything less.”
Mueller also contributed two assists, giving him 15 points in 11 games with Colorado. He had all of 17 points in 54 contests while with the Coyotes.
He’s a different player, a much more confident one.
“He’s starting to feel good about himself,” Avalanche coach Joe Sacco said. “When you start to feel good about yourself, your game picks up. … He’s starting to regain some confidence.”
Mueller had enough confidence to beat Ersberg through the pads, irritating Ersberg.
“I had it all the way and I stopped it, but I was sliding backward and it went through me,” Ersberg said.
As for Stewart’s goal, there wasn’t much Ersberg could do.
“I read high glove and he beat me,” he said.
Ersberg was solid in his relief of Quick, stopping 14 shots. Not bad considering he hasn’t been in net since Feb. 11.
“We were competitive after the change and got some momentum,” Ersberg said. “We were able to sneak a point out of this.”
Los Angeles had trouble generating any sort of offence against the Avalanche early on, being outshot by a 27-11 margin through two periods. Kopitar was the extent of the offence, knocking in a backhanded shot.
But the Kings roared to life in the third, starting with Drew Doughty’s goal 40 seconds into the period.
They kept the pressure up from there, leading to Frolov’s tying goal after the Kings pulled Ersberg to get an extra attacker on the ice. The Avalanche already had Brett Clark in the box serving a penalty for holding.
“We had a bad period, but after that we started pushing it more and got some results,” said Kopitar, who scored his 33rd goal of the season, establishing a career high. “You can’t beat teams by just going through the motions.”
At the morning skatearound, the Avalanche preached the importance of a fast start against Los Angeles.
They received just that as Matt Hendricks, Milan Hejduk and Paul Stastny all scored in the first period.
It was enough to get the Avalanche into a shootout.
From there, Mueller and Stewart took over.
“This was big – the biggest two points of the year,” Stewart said. “It would have hurt not to come away with two. … We can’t look for help from the rest of the league. We have to do it ourselves.”
NOTES: Doughty has been a thorn in Colorado’s side in recent days. On Monday, he scored in overtime against Colorado. … Avalanche D Scott Hannan had his face bloodied by the stick of Brad Richardson. Hannan stayed down for a moment, then lifted up his head, blood dripping to the ice near the Avalanche goal. He left to get stitches just above the lip but later returned. … Avalanche F Darcy Tucker served a one-game suspension for tripping Kings defenceman Matt Greene on an icing play Monday night. Greene was a scratch with an upper-body injury.