O'Reilly collected a Matt Duchene wraparound pass and beat Tim Thomas, with a rebound of his initial shot off the boards, just 1:34 into the game to stake the Avalanche to a 1-0 lead. The goal was the 22-year-old's 19th of the season, a new career-high.
Paul Stastny scored later in the frame, from Gabriel Landeskog and Alex Tanguay, to extend Colorado's lead to two. Tanguay was playing in his first game since November 2nd, when he suffered knee and hip injuries against the Montreal Canadiens.
In the second period, O'Reilly and Duchene combined to set up Jamie McGinn in front of the Panthers' cage for his eleventh, giving the Avalanche a hefty three-goal advantage.
The Panthers finally got on the board at the 5:18 mark of the third period, when Tomas Fleischmann made a nifty one-handed pass from below the goal line to Scottie Upshall, who stuffed the puck past Semyon Varlamov. Tom Gilbert started the play off and collected up the secondary helper. The goal was the 100th of Upshall's career, congratulations Scottie!
Florida kept the pressure on the rest of the way, and Upshall got his second of the night with just 1:43 remaining when Gilbert's blast deflected off him and into the net. Sean Bergenheim also picked up a helper on the goal.
The desperate Cats would pull Thomas for a sixth attacker, but Varlamov made key stops on Bergenheim and Dmitry Kulikov to preserve the win for Colorado.
Once again, the Panthers were doomed by a slow start, forcing them to unsuccessfully play catch up. Florida has been outscored 48-29 in first period this year, a huge problem for an offensively-challenged outfit. While their overall record at home is slightly better, the Panthers are playing a much more effective brand of hockey on the road right now. Teams that struggle like this at home fail to make the playoffs the vast majority of the time. This is a long-standing issue that must get corrected going forward, along with the power play and the inconsistent effort we see from game-to game or even period-to-period, if the club is ever going to turn the proverbial corner. The Cats will head to Motown to kick off a four-game road trip against the Red Wings on Sunday. Detroit is currently nine points in front of Florida for the Eastern Conference's final wildcard berth, so this will be a big one.
Odds & Ends
- Let's just get it out of the way first. The Panthers failed to convert their two chances on the power play and are now on an 0 for 38 run with the man-advantage, a new franchise record for futility.
- Veteran defender Tom Gilbert's two helpers pushed his assist total to 20 on the season. Pretty good stuff for a last-minute addition to the team. Gilbert gobbles up minutes like pac-man and produces offense from the back end. This is a guy Dale Tallon should definitely make a move on for next season.
- Tim Thomas finished the game with 22 saves and saw his record (13-14-1) fall back below the .500 level. Can't really fault Timmeh! for any of the goals, just a night where he needed more support from the offense and didn't get it.
- The Cats picked the wrong team to fall behind, as the Avalanche raised their record to a stellar 26-0-2 when leading after two periods.
- With Aleksander Barkov out for the first time in his young career, veteran Scott Gomez came off the shelf and finished with four shots on goal in 14:54 of ice time. Gomez also won 10 of the 13 draws he took.
- The Panthers made a huge push with twenty shots and two goals in the final frame. Where was some of that effort during the first period? Everybody associated with the team sounds like a broken record, including all of us here on LBC, but at what point are the guys going to get that they need to play complete 60-minute games on a consistent basis?
- In addition to O'Reilly's heroics, got to give props to Semyon Varlamov, who finished with 34 stops. The Cats threw a ton of vulcanized rubber at Varlamov in the third, but he came up big enough to keep the game from going to overtime.
- Towering forward Jimmy Hayes was scratched again. I think it's past time for Hayes to go to San Antonio and hone his game a bit more. Bobby Butler has earned a recall, let's give him a chance on the fourth line and see what he can do with the big club.
- If you'd like to continue the Rocky Mountain high, visit the fine folks over at Mile High Hockey.