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O'Reilly leads Avs to win in Minnesota

The SportsXchange

SAINT PAUL, Minn. -- After building a big lead on the road, then blowing it in an instant, Colorado Avalanche coach Patrick Roy still felt his team was right where it needed to be.

Roy's faith was rewarded when center Ryan O'Reilly scored his second goal of the game in the latter half of the third period, lifting the Avalanche to a 4-2 win over the Minnesota Wild on Saturday.

"Before the game, if you say to me we'd be even after 40 minutes of play, we'd take it," said Roy, after his team improved to 5-1-1 in its last seven. "Everything was possible in the third. It was just a matter of sticking to what we were doing and playing hard."

The Avalanche built a 2-0 lead, saw it slip away, then got O'Reilly's late goal to win a game they never trailed. Colorado (28-12-5) also got a goal from left winger Gabriel Landeskog, an empty-netter by center Maxime Talbot and 25 saves from goaltender Semyon Varlamov.

Charlie Coyle, playing center on the Wild's top line, scored two goals in a 40-second span for the Wild (24-18-5), who lost for the first time in the new year. Minnesota closed out 2013 with a franchise-record six-game losing streak, but began 2014 with four wins in a row.

"There are going to be times that you play well and don't win and you have to make sure that you come right back the next day and get back to it," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "That's what we talked about four, five, six games ago. I just said we have to get the consistency in our game. If we get consistency in our game then we'll get consistent results and you have to bring that whether you win, whether you lose."

With the game knotted at 2 in the third period, O'Reilly capitalized on a rare giveaway by Wild defenseman Ryan Suter, taking a pass from center Matt Duchene and flipping a backhand shot into the upper-left corner of the Minnesota net. It was O'Reilly's first two-goal game of the season.

"We did a great job of getting those two goals and that gave us a lot of momentum, and then it was like bang-bang, right back in the game," said O'Reilly, who had missed Colorado's previous two games with a shoulder injury. "It was good resilience by them but definitely we have to be smarter. When we have a two-goal lead we've got to crank it up and make sure they don't get another thing. We've got to learn that."

The Avalanche managed just three shots on goal in a scoreless first period, but got on the board first after killing a Wild power play midway through the second. A blocked shot in front of Varlamov launched Colorado on a 3-on-2 break, capped off when Landeskog caught a pass from Paul Stastny in front of the Minnesota net and made a deft stickhandling move to beat Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom. It was the 13th goal of the season for Landeskog, who had gone five games without a goal.

Minnesota killed off a 5-on-3 power play, but O'Reilly slipped a low shot between Backstrom's knees a second after the man-advantage expired, giving Colorado a 2-0 lead.

The Wild answered less than a minute later on a pretty give-and-go. Coyle passed to left winger Dany Heatley, who returned the puck to Coyle right in front of Varlamov in time for a backhand that fooled the goalie. Later on the same shift, Heatley again fed the puck to Coyle in front of the Colorado net, and this time Coyle snapped off a shot that beat Varlamov on the stick side. He credited Heatley for the two set-up passes.

"Obviously (Heatley) has pretty good vision with the puck. I just tried to get open, find some room and obviously he puts it right on my stick every time. He's a good player to play with," Coyle said. "When you give him the puck, you keep your stick on the ice. You know you're probably going to get it back. It was a great play by him."

The Avalanche played the third period without center Paul Stastny, who suffered a leg injury and did not return. Roy said he's hopeful that the Avalanche alternate captain will be in the lineup when Colorado plays next, on Tuesday.

"I have no idea," said Roy, when asked about the severity of Stastny's injury. "I'm going to limit myself to say it's day-to-day because I really believe he will play in Chicago, but we'll see how it goes."

Backstrom finished with 14 saves for the Wild, falling to 5-10-2 this season.

NOTES: Veteran Wild D Keith Ballard was a healthy scratch for the third time in the past five games on Saturday. He has also missed 16 games due to injury this season and has no goals and six assists in 28 games. Ballard, a former University of Minnesota standout, signed a free agent contract with the Wild last summer. ... Avalanche D Karl Stollery made his NHL debut on Saturday. The former Merrimack College captain has five goals and six assists in 29 games with Colorado's AHL team this season. ... Stollery's call-up was necessitated after Colorado placed D Nate Guenin on injured reserve. Guenin suffered an ankle injury on Jan. 4 in a 4-3 home win over the San Jose Sharks. ... Minnesota wore special camouflage jerseys for warm-ups on Saturday, as part of a benefit to help military families. The jerseys will be auctioned off with proceeds going to Defending the Blue Line, a charity which provides funds for youth hockey gear and registration. ... The Wild's home stand is a brief one, as they have a road game vs. the Nashville Predators on Sunday night. The Avalanche have two days off before their next game, a road contest vs. the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday.
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