DALLAS – With wins in their final two games and a little help in games involving two playoff rivals, the Dallas Stars can still end their two-year post-season drought.
Loui Eriksson and Brad Richards each had a goal and an assist, and Dallas remained in the playoff race with a 4-2 victory over the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday night in the Stars’ home finale.
Brenden Morrow and Tom Wandell added goals for the Stars, who have won three straight and improved to 93 points with games left at Colorado on Friday night and Minnesota on Sunday.
“It’s what we play the whole year for,” said Morrow, the Stars captain. “That’s what all the workouts are for in the summer, to be in position to win the Stanley Cup. We’ve given ourselves a chance.”
The Stars drew even in points with Calgary for the No. 9 slot in the West, but the Flames have been eliminated with one game left because of tiebreakers.
Dallas is two points behind Chicago and Anaheim for the final Western Conference playoff berth. Anaheim is No. 7, holding the tiebreaker over Chicago. The Ducks and Blackhawks also have two games remaining, so the Stars need some help.
Kari Lehtonen made 21 saves for Dallas and Jamie Benn contributed two assists.
The Avs pulled within a goal twice, but each time the Stars had an answer.
“I thought as we went through it, they got another goal, but I never felt like we were in jeopardy,” coach Marc Crawford said. “I thought our guys were pretty calm, they were going to the right places, they were winning a lot of the one-on-one battles that happened, beside the net, in the corners, especially at the blue-lines. I think we’ll only get better from this.”
Brandon Yip and Mark Olver scored for the Avalanche, 4-25-2 in their last 31 games. Colorado will finish No. 29 in the 30-team league, but the Avs made the Stars sweat.
“They were coming with everything they got, they were fighting for their lives, but we had a lot on the line, too,” Yip said. “We wanted to play for pride and try to upset them and keep their playoff hopes done, but unfortunately, we couldn’t do that tonight, but we have another chance tomorrow, too.”
Despite another loss, Colorado coach Joe Sacco was satisfied with his team’s effort.
“Most of the guys can say to themselves that they did everything they could to help the team win,” Sacco said. “It was good for guys to see what playoff hockey was like, because for Dallas that was playoff hockey. The intensity was revved up tonight.”
Wandell gave the Stars the lead with 4:43 left in the first period when his wraparound attempt hit Colorado defenceman Ryan O’Byrne and dribbled over the goal line.
Dallas needed only 52 seconds to make it 2-0 on Eriksson’s one-timer from the left circle.
Colorado pulled to 2-1 on Yip’s goal from the low slot at 10:15 of the second.
Dallas went on the power play 46 seconds into the third period when O’Byrne went to the penalty box for delay of game after his clearing pass sailed over the Colorado bench. Six seconds later, Morrow had an easy tap-in off Eriksson’s feed for his team-high 31st goal of the season and a 3-1 edge.
The Avalanche gave the Stars a scare at 11:06 of the third when Olver re-directed Ryan Wilson’s pass.
“You look around, and people are playing for something on teams that aren’t in the playoffs,” Morrow said. “They’re playing for jobs, ice time and contracts.”
But Richards chipped a rebound over goalie Brian Elliott at 12:21 to restore Dallas’ two-goal advantage.
It was a rough night for O’Byrne, who was whistled for three minor penalties (including two delays) and was involved in Dallas’ first goal.
“He plays so hard for us all the time,” Sacco said. “It was an off night for him. I don’t think it was one of his best games. He has to be more poised, more patient with the puck.”
Colorado was without seven players, including forwards Paul Stastny (leg) and T.W. Galiardi (forearm), and defencemen John-Michael Liles (concussion), Adam Foote (leg) and Kyle Cumiskey (whiplash).
NOTES: Elliott made 33 saves. … Stars forward Adam Burish (lower body) returned after missing 11 straight games because of a stress fracture in his leg, but Burish only played 7 minutes and 27 seconds. Dallas is still without D Nicklas Grossman (leg) and forward Brian Sutherby (back). … Colorado had won five of its previous six against Dallas, including the first two meetings this season. The teams hadn’t played since Nov. 20.