DENVER (AP) — Wyatt Johnston scored twice on the eve of his 21st birthday as the Dallas Stars pushed Colorado to the brink of elimination Monday night with a 5-1 win in Game 4 that came hours after Avalanche standout Valeri Nichushkin was suspended for at least six months.

Johnston had shorthanded and power-play goals for the Stars, who grabbed a 3-1 lead in the second-round, best-of-seven series. Dallas can close it out at home in Game 5 on Wednesday.

Miro Heiskanen and Evgenii Dadonov also scored, while Sam Steel added a late empty-net goal. Jake Oettinger made 24 saves.

About an hour before the game, the National Hockey League and National Hockey League Players’ Association announced that Nichushkin was suspended for at least six months without pay. He was placed in stage 3 of the league’s player assistance program. It’s the second time this season Nichushkin has been in the program.

A Colorado lineup missing Nichushkin, the team’s leading goal scorer (nine) in this playoff run, struggled early to get on track and was outshot by a 16-2 margin in the first period. Casey Mittelstadt scored Colorado’s lone goal.

The Avalanche also were without standout defenseman Devon Toews, who was a late scratch due to an illness. Colorado’s defense couldn’t prevent Johnston and the Stars from building a 3-0 lead in the second period. Dallas has yet to trail in regulation during the series.

Johnston, who turns 21 on Tuesday, scored his 10th and 11th career playoff goals. He became the eighth player in NHL history to reach double-digit postseason goals at age 20 or younger, according to league research.

The Stars saw forward Roope Hintz leave the game after suffering an upper-body injury in the opening period.

Alexandar Georgiev was kept busy all night, stopping 29 shots.

Avalanche forward Jonathan Drouin played in his first postseason game this season, stepping in to fill the void of Nichushkin. Drouin has been sidelined since he suffered a lower-body injury in the regular-season finale.

Caleb Jones was inserted into the lineup with Toews out and was whistled for two penalties.

The Avalanche dropped both home games to Dallas in this series. Colorado posted the NHL’s best home record (31-9-1) in the regular season.

Johnston took advantage of a Cale Makar turnover late in the first period and scored a shorthanded goal to give the Stars a 1-0 lead. It’s the second shorthanded goal of the series for Dallas.

The Stars have outscored the Avalanche 6-0 in the opening period.

Colorado’s frustration was on display after the first-period buzzer, with Colorado defenseman Josh Manson taking exception to Jamie Benn running into Georgiev. Manson pounced on Benn and both were hit with penalties — Manson for roughing and Benn for goaltender interference.

Benn delivered a big hit on Toews in Game 2.


NEW YORK (AP) — Trailing by a goal with 20 minutes to go and their season on the line, the Carolina Hurricanes weren’t discouraged. They knew they could turn the game around.

Jordan Staal and Evgeny Kuznetsov scored 3:06 apart early in the third period, and the Hurricanes got four goals in the period for a 4-1 win over the New York Rangers in Game 5 of the second-round playoff series on Monday night, staving off elimination for the second straight game.

“There was no panic, we understood what the situation was,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amoiur said. “It wasn’t like we were dead. … You were one shot away, and that’s the way they approached it.”

Jordan Martinook and Martin Necas also scored in the Hurricanes’ big third period, and Frederik Andersen — starting for the fourth time in five games in this series and ninth time in 10 games in the postseason — had 20 saves.

“No one was definitely hanging any heads,” Staal said, “We knew we had to have our best period, and we did. We’re going to have another huge challenge going back home in a couple of days. … We’re fighting for our lives and the boys showed up and it showed.”

Jacob Trouba scored a short-handed goal and Igor Shesterkin stopped 24 shots for New York, which has lost two straight after taking a 3-0 series lead.

“One game at a time,” Rangers forward Chris Kreider said. “If you had told me it would be 3-2 against the second-best team in the league with an opportunity to close it out, that’s a pretty good spot to be in. We’ll just go down there and play better, be more detailed. Find a way to win.”

New York coach Peter Laviolette was also displeased with the result.

“Got some time here before the next game, but clearly we got do a lot of things better,” he said. “There were a lot of issues tonight. We’ll go back and look at it and we’ll try to correct those issues.”

Game 6 is Thursday night in Raleigh, North Carolina.

The Hurricanes won despite going 0 for 3 on the power play to fall to 1 for 20 in this series while giving up a short-handed goal for the second time.

“We’re fighting for our lives every game,” Martinook said. “We gave ourselves a chance to play another game and hopefully give ourselves a chance to come back here (for a deciding Game 7).”

Staal tied it 1-1 at 3:33 as he got a pass from Dmitry Orlov, skated around one Rangers defender in the left circle, came in on Shesterkin and beat him with a backhanded shot that went around the leg of the sprawled goalie. It was Staal’s first goal of the playoffs.

“Just an incredible play by him,” Martinook said. “He was incredible tonight. Everybody jumped on his back. He led us for sure.”

Kuznetsov then gave the Hurricanes the lead as he knocked in the rebound of Brady Skjei’s shot from the right side for his fourth of the postseason.

Martinook made it 3-1 just before the midpoint of the period. Necas sent a centering pass from the end boards, and the puck went off Jack Drury’s stick to Martinook, and he quickly sent a shot that beat Shesterkin.

“He got a little piece of it and calmed it down, so I guess I got to thank him,” Martinook said with a smile.

The Rangers pulled Shesterkin for an extra skater with 3:44 to go, but Necas sent a long shot that went into the empty net 15 seconds later.

The Rangers got a power play when Orlov was called for roughing at 3:47 of the second period. Shortly after the penalty expired, New York’s Jack Roslovic was whistled for tripping, putting Carolina’s struggling power play on the advantage. However, it was the Rangers who broke through.

Trouba blocked a shot by Sebastian Aho, skated up the ice on 2-on-1 rush and fired a shot from the right circle that beat Andersen at 6:23. It was his first goal of the playoffs and the Rangers’ fourth short-handed tally.

The Hurricanes got another power play at the midpoint of the period, but didn’t get a shot on goal during the advantage. Shesterkin then denied Drury’s point-blank try with 6 minutes to go in the second.

Carolina had a 10-9 advantage on shots on goal in a scoreless and fast-paced first period. Both teams had chances and the goalies had to make several nice saves.

Rangers rookie sensation Matt Rempe was back in the starting lineup after sitting out Games 3 and 4.