COLUMBUS, Ohio — "Finding a way" has coincided with the Avalanche's opening-night motto "Why not us" all season, and Tuesday night the Avs fought hard enough to earn two points at Nationwide Arena.
A fluke third-period goal by Brad Malone and a real nice one by captain Gabe Landeskog erased Columbus' two-goal lead, and Landeskog scored off a fortunate bounce with 32.2 seconds remaining in overtime for an improbable 3-2 victory that stunned a playoff-hopeful Blue Jackets crowd of 16,550.
"We're certainly finding ways to win," said Landeskog, who is on a scoring tear with five goals and seven points in his last four games, "and that's what you have to do at this time of year with home-ice advantage at stake."
Beginning the playoffs in Denver against Chicago is looking more realistic for the Avs, who extended their Central Division lead over the defending Stanley Cup champion to three points. Colorado has seven remaining games; the Blackhawks have six.
The Avs, now a remarkable 14-6 in OT, improved to 4-0 without star center Matt Duchene, who missed the first game of his likely three- or four-week absence with a knee injury. Colorado previously beat Chicago, Phoenix and Los Angeles in November without Duchene, the latter two in OT.
"We changed our culture and we never give up," said Avalanche coach Patrick Roy, whose 102-points team is on pace to finish with the franchise's most points since the Stanley Cup-winning season of 2000-01 (118). "We keep working hard and we believe in ourselves, and I think it's one of the reasons we came back in this game."
Colorado improved to 48-21-6, including 23-10-3 on the road.
The Blue Jackets' only minor penalty came 2:39 into OT and the Avs made them pay. With the help of Columbus defenseman Jack Johnson, that is.
Adrian Dater takes readers' questions about the Avalanche and NHL.
Artem Anisimov was serving the final 12 seconds for holding when Landeskog's attempted centering pass to rookie Nathan MacKinnon caromed off Johnson and behind goalie Sergei Bobrovsky.
It was the second big bounce for the Avs, who trailed 2-0 entering the third.
Malone cut the deficit in half with a shot from the corner behind Bobrovsky. The puck caromed in off forward Nick Foligno and the Avs had the momentum.
"We're resilient and we came back in the third working even harder," Roy said. "The goal that Malone scored was a big one for us. He used his speed going into the corner, put it in front and hit off their guy and in."
Landeskog's game-tying goal was no fluke. On MacKinnon's first shift with Landeskog and center Paul Stastny — the rookie began the game centering Ryan O'Reilly and Jamie McGinn — he drove into the right wing and found Landeskog atop the paint, and the captain's one-touch zipped by Bobvrovsky.
"After the second entering the third we talked about not finding any excuses and the need for guys to step up. And a lot of guys did," Landeskog said. "We played a playoff-type third period. Worked hard and chipped away, got a couple bounces obviously. We showed some character."
Denver Post three stars
1. Gabe Landeskog. Avs captain scored the game's final two goals, the latter in overtime on the power play.
2. Brad Malone. Young forward scored a goal and convincingly won a fight for Colorado.
3. Cam Atkinson. Former Boston College standout had a goal in 18:15 for the Blue Jackets.
What you might have missed: The game-tying goal came on the first shift after Avs coach Patrick Roy put Nathan MacKinnon at right wing on the Paul Stastny-centered line. John Mitchell had been playing right wing on that line.
Next up: New York Rangers, Thursday at the Pepsi Center, 7 p.m.
Mike Chambers, The Denver Post
The race for no. 2
The Avalanche is three points ahead of the Chicago Blackhawks in the race for second place in the Central Division. They are likely to play each other in the first round of the NHL playoffs, with the second-place team having home-ice advantage:
Avalanche: 48-21-6, 102 points
Games remaining: Seven
Home (two), away (five)
Next game: Thursday vs. New York Rangers
Blackhawks: 42-19-15, 99 points
Games remaining: Six
Home (three), away (three)
Next game: Thursday vs. Minnesota