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Stars beat Avs 4-2 to stay alive in West

by Steve Hunt
DALLAS -- The Dallas Stars kept their playoff hopes alive by doing something they hadn't done all season -- beating the Colorado Avalanche.

Loui Eriksson and Brad Richards each had a goal and an assist as the Stars beat Colorado 4-2 on Thursday night, their first victory in three meetings with the Avs this season.

The win gives Dallas 93 points moving them within two points of eighth-place Chicago, which holds the eighth and final playoff spot in the West. Dallas is actually even with Calgary but has one more game remaining than the Flames, who finish the season on Saturday night against Vancouver and have been eliminated from the race because they lose all tiebreakers.

"It was a good win. I thought that our start was really impressive," Dallas coach Marc Crawford said. "They want nothing more than to win for each other. That's a powerful quality to have as a group."

The Stars and Avs play again in Denver on Friday, a game that starts about 90 minutes after Chicago's game at Detroit (7:30 p.m., ET, Versus). Dallas ends its season on Sunday in Minnesota and will know by the 6 p.m. ET faceoff whether it has a chance to catch the Hawks, who host Detroit at 12:30 p.m. ET (NBC, TSN).

For now, Crawford wants his team to keep its focus on beating the Avs.

"We know tomorrow will be a huge challenge with Colorado in the building and the altitude and all those sorts of factors but I really believe our guys are up to it," Crawford said. "They feel like they're a team of destiny right now."

Despite another loss, Avs 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 Stars, playing their final home game of the regular season, got the jump on the Avs late in the opening period and led 2-0 at the first intermission

Tom Wandell's seventh goal of the season put the Stars on the board at 15:16. Just 1:35 later, Eriksson made it 2-0 with his 26th, beating goaltender Brian Elliott to his left with a brilliant slap shot from 30 feet.

Colorado outplayed the Stars for much of the second period and finally got on the board at 10:15 when Brandon Yip scored his 10th of the season. Philippe Dupuis dug the puck out from behind the net before feeding it to Yip, who beat goalie Kari Lehtonen on the blocker side with a perfectly-placed 25-foot wrister.

Just 44 seconds into the final period, Colorado defenseman Ryan O'Byrne was sent to the box for the second time in the game after being whistled for delay of game. Eight seconds later, the Stars cashed in when captain Brenden Morrow scored his 31st on a tap-in to make it 3-1.

"Tap-ins, I kind of like those," Morrow said. "It's tough to miss from a foot or two. I think first [Ribeiro] made a good pass back to Loui and Loui faked the shot, kind of sold it, the goalie bit on it, so it was a good play all around."

Crawford heaped a lot of praise on his captain's shoulders after this win.

"He is our captain and a guy that lays his body on the line. You see how many ice bags this guy's got on his body after a game," Crawford said. "He hasn't been able to practice for the last month. That tells you just how much he's ailing. He's not playing at 100 percent and yet he finds a way to get it done."

Mark Olver converted a pass from Ryan Wilson at 11:06 to cut the Stars' lead to 3-2.

But Dallas answered 75 seconds later when Richards knocked a rebound past Elliott for his 27th of the season. Elliott stopped Jamie Benn's initial shot, but Richards slammed in the rebound for the final margin.

"He's started to get a little bit more in those high traffic areas and that's powerful for us," Crawford said of Richards. "He got to the net for the rebound. Those are the types of goals that you score in the playoffs where you have to stay on pucks and pay a price."

Lehtonen stopped 21 of the 23 shots he faced for the victory.

The Stars are now 31-5-2 when scoring first this year, one of the top marks in the NHL. Colorado on the other hand, is just 11-32-4 when allowing the first goal.

"The intensity was revved-up tonight. There was no question they were ready to start the game on time," said Sacco, whose team will finish 29th in the 30-team League.

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