Stars don’t expect Avalanche to go down without a fight

Dallas Stars coach Peter DeBoer refuses to be overconfident despite seeing his team reel off three straight wins to push the Colorado Avalanche to the brink of elimination in their Western Conference second-round series.

The recent success has given the Stars a commanding 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series. Game 5 is Wednesday night in Dallas.

“It’s good, but we also know the final one is always the toughest to win, and we also know the opponent,” DeBoer said after the Stars skated to a 5-1 victory over the Avalanche on Monday in Denver. “… I’m sure they’ll regroup and I’m sure they’re not going to go down quietly. We’re going to anticipate that the next game is going to be the toughest to win.”

The Stars/North Stars franchise has won 12 of 13 series in which it held a 3-1 lead. It has clinched the series in Game 5 on six occasions.

Wyatt Johnston scored twice on Monday to boost his career postseason goal total to 11, which is tied for the seventh-most in NHL history by any player prior to the age of 21. He celebrated his 21st birthday on Tuesday.

Johnston had a short-handed goal in the first period and a power-play tally in the second, the latter of which accounted for his fourth career game-winning goal in the playoffs. That total of postseason game-winning goals is one shy of Jaromir Jagr’s mark for the most by an NHL player prior to his 21st birthday.

“It’s been a crazy, crazy couple of years. I don’t think if you were telling me I’d be in (this) position, playing in the NHL playoffs for the Stars, if you were to tell me that, I guess when was that, 2020 and COVID, I don’t know if I’d believe you,” Johnston said. “It’s been a pretty cool a couple of years, and I’m just really thankful and just so happy to have met some amazing people on the way and just have a chance to be with the Stars.”

Like Johnston (two goals, one assist), defenseman Miro Heiskanen notched a three-point performance after collecting one goal and two assists on Monday.

“It’s a great feeling to go 3-1 rather than 2-2 but still a lot of work to do,” Heiskanen said, per The Dallas Morning News. “They’re for sure coming even harder the next game, so we have to be ready for that.”

Casey Mittelstadt scored the lone goal for the Avalanche, who learned earlier on Monday that the NHL and NHL Players’ Association announced star Valeri Nichushkin was suspended for at least six months without pay. He was placed in Stage 3 of the league’s player assistance program.

“We’re not going to use that as an excuse. We can’t and we won’t,” Colorado coach Jared Bednar said.

Nichushkin leads the Avalanche with nine goals this postseason, including four with the man advantage.

Speaking of the power play, the Avalanche are 0-for-8 over the past three games with the man advantage. Rubbing salt in the wound is the fact that Dallas has scored a pair of short-handed goals during that stretch.