DENVER – The Colorado Avalanche didn’t need a shootout to get off to their best start in franchise history.
When they faced one, they were once again successful.
Ryan O’Reilly scored the only goal in the shootout, Semyon Varlamov stopped 35 shots and the Avalanche beat the Minnesota Wild 3-2 on Saturday night.
Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon had a goal apiece to help the Avalanche sweep the home-and-home series with the Wild.
“It was a good couple games against Minny, they obviously play a pretty tough game,” MacKinnon said. “Down low, they’re tough to defend. It’s always nice to get on the board a little bit, but obviously getting two wins is huge for us.”
Colorado and the New York Rangers were the only teams to yet have a game decided in a shootout before Saturday. Despite their lack of experience, the Avalanche came out on top.
“(I was) nervous, same as usually,” Varlamov said. “Nobody, none of the goalies, nobody likes the shootouts.”
John Mitchell added two assists for Colorado, which won a rare penalty-free game.
“I was a little bit (surprised) considering how much time was spent in the offensive zone,” Minnesota coach Mike Yeo said regarding the lack of penalty calls.
Mikko Koivu and Matt Cooke scored goals and Josh Harding stopped 23 shots for the Wild.
Minnesota has dominated the Avalanche in Colorado since the 2007-08 season. The Wild came into Saturday with a 12-2-2 record since midway through that season, and they had won six of their past seven at Pepsi Center.
The Avalanche looked as if they would win comfortably despite Minnesota carrying the play when Cooke spoiled the shutout bid with 3:27 left to make it 2-1.
“I think we had five or six grade-A chances in the first period alone and sometimes that’s frustrating,” Cooke said. “But it’s up to us to just try to keep each other positive and the fact that we’re getting those scoring opportunities is a good thing. We just need to stay on it.”
Harding came off for an extra skater in the final minute, and Koivu beat Varlamov on a slap shot with six seconds left to send the game into overtime.
“Nobody wants to give up a goal with 4 seconds left,” Varlamov said. “The third period we sat back the last 10 minutes and they started to get more chances around the net and that is why we gave up two goals. It is what it is. We were able to get two points.”
Neither team could score in the extra period, sending the Avalanche to their first shootout of the season.
Despite never having competed in an NHL shootout—or coaching in one—coach Patrick Roy didn’t hesitate in picking his shooters. He chose the only players to score in one in the team’s last practice.
“It made it kind of easy,” Roy said.
Harding made saves on P.A. Parenteau and MacKinnon before O’Reilly broke through. Jason Pominville couldn’t match the goal and Minnesota lost for the second straight night.
“I just tried to open up my blade and try to look like I was going to shoot it and kind of put it through,” O’Reilly said.
For Minnesota, getting a point after trailing late was some consolation.
“That’s a huge point for us. It was great the way we played the game,” Yeo said. “We lost the skill competition at the end of the game, the shootout, whatever you want to call it. Bottom line I really believe we deserved the win in regulation.”
Coming off a tough loss to Colorado in St. Paul on Friday night, Minnesota was looking to get even but Saturday’s game started like Friday’s ended.
Landeskog, who sealed Friday’s 3-1 win with an empty-net goal, gave the Avalanche the early lead when his backhand from the side of the net deflected off Harding and into the goal 2:22 into the game. It was his ninth goal of the season.
The Wild nearly tied it later in the first when Cooke’s backhand slipped under Varlamov and lay on the goal line for a moment and the goalie covered it up. It was reviewed and determined the puck never completely crossed the line.
Minnesota had another great chance in the second period when Torrey Mitchell got ahead of the defence, took a pass from Cooke and had a breakaway on Varlamov. The goalie stopped the backhander to preserve the one-goal lead.
“Some nights you get a hot goalie and we surely did that tonight,” Koivu said.
Colorado added to the lead later in the second when Marco Scandella turned it over in his own end. Mitchell got the puck to a wide-open MacKinnon, and the rookie beat Harding with a wrister at 12:56 of the period.
It was his fifth goal of the season.
NOTES: It was the second time in the Colorado/Quebec franchise history that the team played a penalty-free game. The other happened April 9, 2000, against Detroit. … Mitchell reached 100 career points with his two assists. … Wild LW Zach Parise played in his second straight game after missing one with a foot contusion. … Avalanche C Paul Stastny returned after missing two games due to back spasms.