DALLAS -- The Dallas Stars could not exhale until 20.4 seconds remained in the third period, when defenseman Esa Lindell’s shot slid into an empty net to secure a 5-3 win against the Colorado Avalanche in Game 2 of the Western Conference Second Round at American Airlines Center on Thursday.

In Game 1, they blew a 3-0 lead and lost 4-3 in overtime. This time, they let a 4-0 lead dwindle to 4-3 and had to kill a penalty late in the third, much of it 6-on-4 with Colorado goalie Alexandar Georgiev pulled for the extra attacker.

This was a relief. The Stars came back to defeat the Vegas Golden Knights in a seven-game first-round series after losing the first two games at home. They didn’t want to have to do that against the Avalanche. Game 3 is at Ball Arena in Denver on Saturday (10 p.m. ET; MAX, truTV, TNT, SN1, SN, TVAS).

“We had to win tonight,” Dallas coach Pete DeBoer said. “I mean, we couldn’t go down 2-0 like we did in Round 1 and try to crawl out of that hole going into Colorado. It was important win.”

It was important how the Stars won, at least before they nearly coughed up the lead.

After Game 1, DeBoer noted that Colorado’s top players were all over the score sheet and challenged some of his scorers to step up. He said Wednesday the forward group had a responsibility to make a difference and take pressure off the defense.

Center Roope Hintz, who had only one empty-net goal in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, had four points (one goal, three assists). Forward Tyler Seguin, who had no goals and three assists in the playoffs, scored a short-handed goal. Defenseman Miro Heiskanen scored two power-play goals.

“Those guys want to win,” DeBoer said. “They want to be difference-makers. They’re used to being difference-makers. It’s critical that those guys started to score, and we got scoring from the right guys.”

COL@DAL R2, Gm2: Hintz fakes the shot then flicks it into the twine

DeBoer said Hintz looked like Hintz. This is a guy who had 24 points (10 goals, 14 assists) in 19 playoff games last season, leading Dallas in goals and points on a run to the conference final. He had 65 points (30 goals, 35 assists) in 80 games in the regular season.

“It was nice, nice to get on the board and help the team that way,” Hintz said. “You can’t control the past, so let’s focus on the future.”

If Hintz looks like Hintz -- if Hintz feels like Hintz -- the Stars’ future is brighter.

“He was great tonight, for sure, and I think that’s going to be great for his confidence,” Heiskanen said.

Meanwhile, Colorado’s top players were not all over the score sheet. Forward Valeri Nichushkin had a goal for the seventh straight game, but defenseman Cale Makar, center Nathan MacKinnon and forward Mikko Rantanen each failed to record a point for the first time in the playoffs.

Colorado coach Jared Bednar said he thought MacKinnon and Rantanen were frustrated and tried different linemates with them in an effort to get them going again.

Some credit goes to the Dallas penalty kill, which went 3-for-3 after going 0-for-2 in Game 1. Some goes to Dallas goalie Jake Oettinger, who made 28 saves. But it was a lot of things.

“I liked how we played,” DeBoer said. “I liked how we defended as a five-man unit. I liked how we attacked. I liked how we broke out. I think all those details, if you’re going to try to keep those guys contained at all, you’re going to have a lot of detail in your game in all those areas.”

Look, Dallas cannot sit back against Colorado. The Stars must stay aggressive. The Avalanche are too explosive.

“We tried to weather the storm, weather the storm,” Dallas forward Jason Robertson said. “Honestly, we had some chances in the third to kind of put the game away, and when you can’t do that, teams hang around. A team as skilled as this team, they can bite you in the butt. I’m sure guys will keep learning from this.”

But DeBoer said when he looks at the tape, he’s going to be really happy with almost everything they did.

“Obviously, we’ve got to handle those situations better, but I think the silver lining is, we built 3- and 4-0 leads, so we played some very good hockey for long stretches against them,” DeBoer said. “I thought tonight was better than Game 1. We did most of the things that we wanted to do tonight building that lead. The right guys scored, got the board for us. I really liked our game.

“They’re an explosive team. They’ve got a little bit of that mojo when they get in that spot where they can kind of throw caution to the wind and just try to create. We can be a little smarter in that situation. But you learn as the playoffs go on, and you’ve got to win all kinds of different ways.”

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