Johnston scores twice, Stars push Avalanche to brink with Game 4 win

Prior to the game, Avalanche forward Valeri Nichushkin was placed in Stage 3 of the NHL/NHLPA Player Assistance Program. Under the terms of the program, Nichushkin will be suspended without pay for a minimum of six months and then will be eligible to apply for reinstatement.

“Val is obviously struggling with something,” Colorado coach Jared Bednar said. “I have two thoughts. Yeah, it [stinks] for our team. It hurts our team, there’s no question. He’s a great player.

“I’ve gotten to know Val as a person and I’ve gotten to know him as one of our teammates, and I want what’s best for him. I want him to be happy and I want him to be content in his life, whether that is with our team or not with our team. I want the best for him and his family. I think all of our guys are the same. We hope that he can find some peace and get help. That’s the other side of it. Hockey is not life and death, even though we treat it like it is. Val is a big priority, and our team is another one. Now they are separated. They’re not together.”

Miro Heiskanen had a goal and two assists, Sam Steel had a goal and an assist, and Jason Robertson had two assists for the Stars, who are the No. 1 seed from the Central Division. Jake Oettinger made 24 saves.

“We know they’re a fast team. We know what we have to do. Everyone in our dressing room knows how to play the right way, and the right way is successful for us these whole playoffs,” Robertson said. “And I think it’s just contagious on our bench. I think one guy sees it, another guy sees it, and you just get rolling and rolling. And it’s great to see, like I said, how contagious it is whenever we do everything the right way. Good things happen.”

Casey Mittelstadt scored, and Alexandar Georgiev made 29 saves for the Avalanche, who are the No. 3 seed from the Central.

“We looked frozen in the first period. We were not moving, we were not skating. It looked like we were exhausted and we should be the rested team,” Bednar said. “I thought we got better in the second, but it was still a struggle. Slow pace, slow thinking, lack of execution. I didn’t feel like the guys were not trying, but just everything felt like it was a struggle tonight.

“Tonight, we were atrocious.”

Johnston gave Dallas a 1-0 lead with a short-handed goal at 15:37 of the first period. After he forced a turnover by Cale Makar along the goal line, Johnston jammed in his third chance from the edge of the crease.

Johnston then scored a power-play goal to extend the lead to 2-0 at 5:46 of the second period. He took a slap pass from Robertson below the left circle and scored with a one-timer that deflected in off the side of Georgiev.

“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,” said Johnston, who turns 21 on Tuesday. “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.”

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