Colorado Avalanche center Ryan O\'Reilly takes a shot while being defended by New York Islanders defenseman Milan Jurcina in the first period of an NHL hockey game between the New York Islanders and the Colorado Avalanche in Denver, Colo., on Saturday, Jan. 8, 2011. (AP Photo/Chris Schneider)
DENVER - Kevin Poulin's first NHL start in goal couldn't have began much worse—or ended much sweeter.
After surrendering two early goals, Poulin settled in and stopped 34 shots, helping the New York Islanders to a 4-3 overtime win over the slumping Colorado Avalanche on Saturday.
John Tavares scored the winner 3:52 into overtime after Milan Hejduk backhanded in the tying goal with four seconds remaining in regulation.
Given the start Poulin had, it looked as if the Islanders were in for long day. Poulin gave up goals to Hejduk and David Koci just 1:47 into the contest.
Not exactly the beginning he envisioned.
"I said, 'It's going to be a rough one,'" Poulin admitted.
It certainly was—for the Avalanche.
Poulin kept the fourth-highest scoring team in check until Hejduk's late goal with Craig Anderson pulled for an extra skater.
"He was great," said Tavares, whose team has won four of the last five games. "He stood on his head. Had a couple of big saves, let us get back into the game."
And Tavares took it from there.
In overtime, Tavares cut in front of the net and put a wrist shot over Anderson for the decisive goal.
After the game, Anderson insisted something struck the puck before it sailed past him.
"I think he lost it, and our own guy swatted at it and chipped it in off the crossbar," Anderson explained.
Tavares couldn't shed any light on the subject since his visor was covered with snow shavings.
"I didn't see much. I just tried to drive it to the net," Tavares said. "It might have even hit Anderson's stick, but it might have hit the defenceman's stick."
Either way, a winning goal is still a winning goal.
"I was ecstatic," Tavares said.
Jeremy Colliton didn't take long to contribute, scoring two power-play goals in his first game of the season for New York after being called up the day before. That interim coach Jack Capuano had enough faith to place him on the power play speaks to the confidence he has in Colliton.
"We're not going to call guys up that we don't have a strong belief in and come here to sit in the stands," Capuano said. "I know what they can bring to the table."
Poulin came up big on a power play midway through the third period when he deflected a slap shot with his blocker pad, and then prevented Hejduk from sneaking in a loose puck by sticking out his left leg.
It was that kind of afternoon for the Avalanche, who have cooled since a six-game winning streak was snapped, going 2-6-1.
"Unfortunate game," Hejduk said. "We had a good start. It looked like we would just roll over them. We took some penalties, they scored some goals and we were kind of battling the rest of the game."
The Avalanche had been nearly flawless lately at killing penalties—20-of-21 over the last five games—but gave up three to New York.
The Islanders were again solid in that area, running their streak of not allowing a power-play goal to five games. They've killed 13 straight penalties during that stretch.
"Probably the difference in the game was our special teams," Capuano said.
Poulin was called up from Bridgeport of the American Hockey League on Jan. 4 after Rick DiPietro suffered an abductor injury. The 20-year-old Poulin made his debut Thursday night when he was summoned to spell Nathan Lawson and stopped 19 shots in 54 minutes.
That performance helped earn him the start against Colorado, especially with the team playing Sunday in Chicago to conclude an 11-day, five-game road swing.
Hejduk scored 45 seconds in, the quickest to begin a game for Colorado this season, and Koci added another 1:02 later.
But Poulin found his rhythm as he stopped 10 shots in the first period and another 11 in the second, including one in which he smothered the puck just before it rolled into the goal.
"I just kept focusing," Poulin said. "I felt comfortable the whole game, just those first two goals. It's the NHL—sometimes they're great players, too."
Notes: The Avs are starting to get back to health as F Chris Stewart (broken left hand) began skating again and D Kyle Cumiskey (concussion) was cleared to practice with the team. ... Islanders C Frans Nielsen (groin) missed a second straight game. ... Before Saturday, Colliton's only NHL goal was April 15, 2006, against Pittsburgh.