He was also the last.
In between, Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov and New Jersey netminder Cory Schneider put on a defensive show that didn’t end until O’Reilly’s third-round shootout score gave Colorado a 2-1 win, its seventh in nine games.
O’Reilly put the Avs ahead 1-0 when he potted a one-timer from the slot at 8:55 of the first period, after he received a behind-the-net pass from Patrick Bordeleau. He then sent the Devils to their second shootout loss in three games when he methodically skated wide down the right side in the third round of the tiebreaker before slapping a try past Schneider’s left side.
The first-period score was O’Reilly’s fourth in his past two games and his 12th point (eight goals, four assists) in 12 games. He all of a sudden leads the Avalanche with a career-high 18 goals on the season, matching his NHL watermark set during the 2011-12 season.
His three straight games with a goal matched a career-long streak he had done twice previously.
“Every year you get better and better, [and] you learn about the game,” he said. “This year, playing with [Matt] Duchene and Ginner (Jamie McGinn) right now, they’re two really talented offensive guys. … It’s easy playing with those guys. If I keep playing smart, working hard, hopefully it works out for me.”
O’Reilly started the sequence that led to his first-period score with a pass along the left wall that landed on Brad Malone’s stick and then pushed behind the net and toward Bordeleau.
Bordeleau fought for possession against the glass with New Jersey’s Jon Merrill and eventually found O’Reilly, who had set up shop between the face-off circles. Schneider was in position to make the stop, but O’Reilly scooped it top shelf, high and to the stick side.
“Dutch came in with speed,” O’Reilly said, “[and] it looked like there was quite a few holes coming down that side, and he opened it up, so I thought I’d come down the same side and see what [Schneider] gave me. I kind of flubbed on the shot a bit. It looked to me it kind of trickled in. I thought he made a good save, sometimes you just get bounces, right?”
The Avs had seven injured players on the shelf for Thursday’s game, but they didn’t miss a beat against New Jersey, continuing a season-long trend. Adversity and tests have come in all shapes through Colorado’s first 47 games, but Patrick Roy’s team has rebounded every time.
The Avalanche came into Thursday with 88 combined man games lost because of injury, but those holes in the boat haven’t caused the ship to sink.
Thursday’s win matched this year’s Avalanche with the franchise’s 2000-01 group for the fastest team to 30 wins in franchise history (47th game).
“I think it’s great for us confidence-wise,” Roy said. “With all the injuries that we’re having, it gives a chance to everyone to play more and prove something, and I think that’s what our guys have been doing. These are great character wins. It could be easy for us to feel sorry when you’re losing players, but it’s not the case. We keep going.”
Varlamov made 33 saves against the Devils and improved to 10-0-5 in his past 16 games (15 starts). His run of 15 consecutive decisions without a regulation loss is the second longest streak in franchise history, one shy of Peter Budaj’s mark set in Spring 2007.
The Avalanche kept New Jersey from getting off many shots in the first two periods, but the Devils made some adjustments and let fire in the third period and overtime.
Varlamov stopped just 11 shots in the first 40 minutes and then 22 of 23 in the final 25, including a dynamic glove snag against Jaromir Jagr on a 2-on-1 rush at 2:13 of overtime.
Varlamov was asked afterward to assess his play, but he wasn’t interested. Instead he pointed to the most important stat for a team looking to solidify its spot in the Stanley Cup playoff race.
“It’s all about the two points,” he said. “You know, we want to win so bad right now, every point is huge for us. Minnesota won again tonight (4-1 vs. Edmonton) so that was a very important two points.”
“He was outstanding,” Roy said when told of his goalie’s team-first attitude. “There’s no doubt. The first two periods we played really well in front of him, but for some reason in the third it opened up. But Varly was there on every great scoring chance [New Jersey] had. He was outstanding. He was without a doubt the reason we had a chance in the shootout.”
Thursday’s game didn’t feature nearly the same environment as that of Game 7 of the 2001 Stanley Cup Final, but anytime Avalanche coach Patrick Roy and New Jersey netminder Martin Brodeur are in the same building, it’s hard not to reminisce on one of the seminal moments in Avalanche history.
Roy helped Colorado to a 3-1 win against Brodeur’s Devils in that 2001 finale, and he earned his fourth Stanley Cup and third Conn Smythe Trophy as most valuable player of the playoffs.
He finished his playing career as the winningest goalie in NHL history (551) but has since been surpassed by Brodeur, who’s playing his 20th NHL season at the age of 41. He earned career victory No. 682 on Tuesday at Montreal before backing up Devils starter Cory Schneider on Thursday.
“I’ve always had a lot of respect for [Brodeur],” Roy said Thursday morning. “It’s amazing what he’s been doing. I would not see myself at  playing in the NHL. It’s quite an accomplishment.”
Roy stepped away from the game in 2003 and, after spending time in ownership and in coaching with the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior League, he rejoined the Avalanche this season as its coach and vice president of hockey operations.
Does he see a similar post-playing future for Brodeur?
“I wish for him because [coaching is] a great job,” Roy said. “I’m very happy to be here, and I like to be in [this] situation. It’s a great thing for me after such a nice career to be able to continue where my passion is.”
- The Avs are 12-3-1 this season against Eastern Conference teams and 7-2-1 at home against them. Colorado is 25-7-2 against Eastern Conference opponents since the start of the 2011-12 season and 73-37-8 since 2005-06.
- Matt Duchene turned 23 Thursday and played on his birthday for the second time in his NHL career. His previous birthday game coincidentally also was against the Devils (Jan. 16, 2010). He had an assist in that game, a 3-1 victory at Pepsi Center.
“Still learning a lot,” Duchene said of his experience through five seasons in the league. “No. 1, it’s incredibly hard to win in this league. No. 2, just when you think you’ve got it figured out you don’t, and No. 3, the best way to stay consistent is keep your emotions in check. That’s what I’m still working on.”
- The Avalanche wore its third jersey Thursday night and improved to 4-1-2 in the “blues” this season.
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