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Johnston, Stars get chance at home to knock out Avs in five games


Wyatt Johnston accomplished a lot for the Dallas Stars before his 21st birthday. He has already appeared in 30 NHL playoff games, with four game-winning goals over those two postseasons, and matched a single-game mark accomplished only by Wayne Gretzky.

“It's unreal for sure. It's a lot of fun to watch,” Dallas defenseman Miro Heiskanen said. “He amazes us every time.”

Johnston turned 21 on Tuesday, when the Stars flew home from Colorado with a 3-1 series lead in their second-round Western Conference series. They could wrap it up at home with a win in Game 5 on Wednesday night.

“They announced it on the plane, he’s finally 21,” Dallas coach Pete DeBoer said after the team landed in Dallas. “Maybe he’ll stop for a beer on the way home somewhere. I hope he does. He’s been waiting a while for this. I mean, we plopped a 19-year-old into a man’s league in a man’s environment.”

Since his NHL debut for the Stars at the start of last season, Johnston has played in all 164 of their regular-season games, and all playoff games. He is now their leading goal scorer, with seven this postseason after 32 in the regular season.

The Stars won both games in Colorado, returning home after a 5-1 win in Game 4 when the young center scored the first two goals. Johnston had a power-play goal and a short-handed goal to join Gretzky as the only players with both in the same playoff game while still 20.

On the day after Johnston's birthday, the Stars will try to get a series-clinching Game 5 victory at home for the first time since 2000, three years before he was born. Wednesday's game will come exactly a year after his game-winning goal in Game 7 of their second-round series against Seattle on the day after his 20th birthday.

“It’s been a crazy, crazy couple of years,” Johnston said.

There are no other NHL playoff games Wednesday night. There will be two on Thursday night, including Game 5 between Edmonton and Vancouver in the other Western Conference semifinal series.

Facing elimination, the Avalanche are trying to regroup without their top goal scorer in the playoffs, Valeri Nichushkin (suspension), and possibly one of their best defensemen in Devon Toews (illness).

“Last night, I’m sure a lot of us were just thinking about just winning the game, but there’s a lot of steps before that we have to do to win the game. And regardless of who we have in the lineup, it doesn’t really change,” Hart Trophy finalist Nathan MacKinnon said Tuesday. “Obviously, we want Val in the lineup and we want (Toews) in the lineup, but I still feel like we’re good enough to win it all.”

The Stars’ swarming defense has held the high-scoring, fast-flying Avalanche to five goals over three consecutive losses. Colorado’s only lead in this series came when Miles Wood scored the game-winning goal 11 minutes into overtime of Game 1.

“It’s a challenge, but we’re the best offensive team in the league, so there’s no excuse,” MacKinnon said. “We have to find a way to get going. ... Just try to find ways. There are some looks out there ... When you beat that defense, you have (Jake) Oettinger in net, too, so it’s tough.”

Dallas blocked 27 shots in Game 4, clogging the middle and making it difficult for Colorado to even get the puck to the net to try to create screens, tips or rebounds.

“We’ll have to probably look at a few more things to try and get some shots through. I think we can shoot it quicker at times," Avs coach Jared Bednar said. "'I think our decision-making hasn’t been real sharp in some of those areas even though we’re working hard enough to get the puck and have the puck in the O-zone. It’s going to be a struggle and it’s going to be a battle to get to the net — we’ve just got to make sure we’re fighting through it in different ways.”

Stars forward Roope Hintz played only 6 1/2 minutes in Game 4, leaving with an upper-body injury after a cross-check from MacKinnon. Defenseman Chris Tanev also came out for some time with an undisclosed injury.

DeBoer said Tuesday that Hintz was getting some tests done Tuesday while adding that “Tanev looked like he was fine when I saw him.”


AP Sports Writer Pat Graham contributed to this report.


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