DENVER – Joe Sacco’s decision to shake up his lineup paid immediate dividends for the Colorado Avalanche coach.
Sacco inserted little-used Mark Olver into the lineup, and the forward had a goal and an assist to help spark Colorado’s rally in the third period that beat the Dallas Stars 4-3 on Wednesday night.
Chuck Kobasew also had two points—including the game-winning goal—and Ryan O’Reilly had a goal and an assist for the Avalanche, who snapped a four-game skid.
It was a banner return to action for Olver, who had been a healthy scratch for seven games. He used the opportunity to state his case for more playing time.
“It hasn’t been very good. I’ve been out of the lineup for a while and it was good to make a contribution,” he said. “I made mine tonight when it counted.”
Olver was almost the hero when Colorado came all the way back from a two-goal deficit. The Avalanche got the winner when Matt Hunwick’s shot from the boards hit Dallas defenceman Stephane Robidas in the back of the head and dropped to the ice. Kobasew quickly knocked it in with a backhand—a moment before Olver would have knocked it in.
“I took a good whack at it and was fortunate to put the puck in,” Kobasew said. “Unfortunate that he (Robidas) was hurt on the play.”
Olver dived on the ice in celebration—and relief.
“Sitting on the sidelines is not fun and it was great to come in and help tonight,” he said.
Jaromir Jagr scored a goal and had two assists, and Trevor Daley and Ray Whitney also scored for the Stars.
“I don’t think we realize that it’s a playoff game for us,” Jagr said. “Every game from now on is. We played like it was game No. 4.”
Jagr played his first 19 NHL seasons in the Eastern Conference before joining the Stars this season. Facing the Avalanche might have been a reason he came West: Jagr has more points (46) against Colorado than any other Western Conference team, and he continued that success Wednesday.
His goal in the first period, his 11th, made it 1-0. He then assisted on Daley’s third goal of the season four minutes later.
It was a typical slow start or the Avalanche, who have dropped five straight. Colorado has been outscored 34-19 in the first period this season, which has contributed to being in last place in the Western Conference.
With the season slipping away, Sacco made forwards Jamie McGinn and David Jones, who have a combined one point in the last nine games, healthy scratches and brought in Olver.
“We had to make some changes. Changes we felt would help our lineup and that’s what I did,” Sacco said. “There comes a point where you wait around for people to get the job done and after a while you have to make a decision, hard decisions. Those are decisions you have to make.”
It didn’t appear to make a difference early, but the Avalanche fought back in the second to tie it. Olver scored on a rebound off the backboards midway through the period and Gabriel Landeskog scored a short-handed goal at 13:30, his second in as many games.
Dallas got the lead right back when Whitney took a pass from Jagr, skated past the front of the net and scored on a backhand 2:26 later to make it 3-2.
The Avalanche pressed for the equalizer and finally got it at 6:20 of the third when O’Reilly came down the left side, stumbled before gathering himself to beat Kari Lehtonen on the short side.
“We played well enough to win and invented a way to lose,” Dallas coach Glen Gulutzan said.
NOTES: Lehtonen had 30 saves for Dallas. Colorado goalie Semyon Varlamov made 29 saves. … Robidas suffered a cut on the back of his head that needed four stitches to close. … Jagr’s two assists gives him 998 for his career. … One of Jagr’s three five-point games came against Colorado. … Colorado recalled defenceman Stefan Elliot from Lake Erie of the AHL on Tuesday and placed defenceman Ryan Wilson (ankle) on the injured list, retroactive to March 14. … Landeskog played in his 100th career game.