MONTREAL – Ryan O’Reilly picked a big stage and just the right moment to score his first NHL goal.
The 18-year-old from Clinton, Ont., put in his own rebound to break a tie and lift the surprising Colorado Avalanche to a 3-2 victory over Montreal, spoiling the Canadiens NHL home opener on Thursday night.
The Bell Centre crowd of 21,273 that showed up in a party mood groaned as O’Reilly gave the Avalanche (5-1-1) their third win in a row and sent the Canadiens (2-4-0) to their fourth straight loss.
A skirmish erupted in a corner to the left of the Montreal net after Cody McLeod knocked veteran Scott Gomez’s helmet off with a jarring hit and the puck came out to O’Reilly, who shot, picked up his own rebound and steered it around goaltender Carey Price at 13:47 of the third period.
“I had a great opportunity there,” said O’Reilly, the youngest player in Avalanche history. “Both linemates battled so hard for about 30 seconds there. I was just sitting in the weeds, the puck came to me, I had a chance to win the game and it worked out good.”
Milan Hejduk and Kyle Cumiskey scored in the middle period for Colorado, while Roman Hamrlik and Tomas Plekanec scored for Montreal.
At the draft in Montreal last June, the Avalanche selected centre Matt Duchene third overall and O’Reilly 33rd overall. Both have started the season with the NHL club and have been impressive at times, although coach Joe Sacco said no decision has yet been made on whether or not they will be returned to their Ontario Hockey League clubs – the Brampton Battalion for Duchene and the Erie Otters for O’Reilly.
O’Reilly has a goal and three assists and is plus-3, while Duchene, who centres the second line, has no goals, three assists and is minus-4 thus far.
“I don’t now how long I’m going to stay up here, so I just try to work hard and learn every game,” said O’Reilly.
The Avalanche are 3-1-1 so far on a seven-game road trip that takes them to Detroit on Saturday and Minnesota on Wednesday. The Avs are in a stretch of playing 11 of 13 on the road.
“We’re a young team and sometimes it’s good to be young and full of it,” said Avs veteran Darcy Tucker. “We’re hungry for the puck.”
The Canadiens dominated the opening period, but had the tables turned in the second, prompting new coach Jacques Martin to muse about sustaining effort through a full game.
Winger Mike Cammalleri, one of seven players acquired in the off-season by Montreal, agreed.
“I don’t think we’re doing enough to win games,” said Cammalleri, who is still without a goal as a Canadien. “I don’t think we should leave things to chance.
“You don’t want to win because you could have won, you want to win because you definitely should have won.”
The Canadiens had three power plays in the opening period and made one of them count as Plekanec, their best player on the night, feathered a pass to Hamrlik moving in from the point to beat Craig Anderson for his second of the season.
The Avalanche picked up the pressure in the second period and it produced two goals – both off the skates of Montreal defencemen.
The teams were each down one man when Hejduk pushed the puck toward the net and saw it go off Josh Gorges’ skate and between Price’s pads at 13:39.
With 28 seconds left in the period, Cumiskey threw a pass in front after a rush down the left side and had it go off Shawn Belle’s skate and under the crossbar.
“Those 20 minutes cost us the game,” said Montreal’s Brian Gionta.
Andrei Kostitsyn picked a puck out of the air off the back of the net and slid a pass across the crease for Plekanec to bang into a open side to tie the game 8:26 into the third period.
Belle played his first game for Montreal after being called up this week from the AHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs. Overall, he did a decent job, but he had a lucky shot go in off his skate and was enticed into the corner after the hit on Gomez, so O’Reilly moved into his spot to score the game-winner.
Notes: Defenceman John-Michael Liles, who left a game Tuesday with a shoulder problem, did not dress for Colorado. T.J. Hensick and Chris Stewart also sat out. … Montreal sat out winger Greg Stewart. … Paul Stastny played his 200th NHL game for Colorado. … The Avs had not played in Montreal since Oct. 21, 2006, an 8-5 loss. … The Canadiens are 54-21-17 in their NHL home openers. … The Canadiens are 4-11-3 against Colorado since the Avs left Quebec City in 1995.