Stars 4, Avalanche 1

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DENVER (AP) – Desperation served the Stars well.

Dallas avoided an early elimination from the NHL playoffs with an impressive 4-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche on Friday night behind Niklas Hagman’s first two goals of the postseason.

Colorado’s quest for a stunning 4-0 sweep of the second-seeded Stars hit a stumbling block in the second period when Dallas goaltender Marty Turco made a risky move that fired up the Stars, who outshot the Avalanche 19-6.

Two of those shots found the net.

Hagman’s breakaway goal off Sergei Zubov’s pass broke a 1-1 tie less than 4 minutes into the period, and Bill Guerin’s wraparound goal between goaltender Jose Theodore’s skates came at 18:41 and took the air out of the Avs.

In between, Turco, who won for just the second time in nine playoff games against the Avalanche, came out of the net to play the puck, colliding with Colorado forward Alex Tanguay just above the right circle. In the ensuing scramble, Dallas defenseman Willie Mitchell slid over to deflect Ian Laperriere’s shot near the net.

The Stars outshot the Avs 39-23.

The best-of-seven Western Conference series will return to Dallas for Game 5 on Sunday night. The Stars are hoping to join the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs and the 1975 New York Islanders as the only teams in league history to win a playoff series after falling behind 3-0.

For the first three games, every lucky bounce went Colorado’s way. The Avs won Games 2 and 3 in overtime after knotting each contest with fortuitous goals late in the third period.

There was no such Colorado comeback in store this time. Even though the Avs matched Dallas’ intensity in the third period, they finished 0-for-6 on the power play and couldn’t control the pace or the puck enough to take shots at Turco, who had allowed 15 goals in the series.

The Stars simply had too much energy – perhaps a byproduct of coach Dave Tippett’s decision to cancel practice Thursday but just as likely the heightened level of adrenaline borne out of the desire to avoid an embarrassing sweep at the hands of the seventh-seeded Avs.

Hagman’s second goal, into an empty net, came with 1:15 left and sent the crowd streaming to the exits.

Colorado went ahead less than 5 minutes in on Brad Richardson’s first career goal in the NHL playoffs after he was set up on a pass from behind the net by Antti Laaksonen for a 1-0 lead.

The Stars tied it less than 3 minutes later. Jere Lehtinen capitalized on Karlis Skrastins falling out of position to slap the puck past Theodore from the right circle on a goal assisted by Mike Modano, who has been amazingly quiet in this series.

Notes: The Avs haven’t won four straight since an eight-game winning streak from Dec. 31-Jan. 17. … Colorado hasn’t swept a series since the 2001 quarterfinals against Vancouver. Dallas hasn’t been swept since the conference semifinals that year by St. Louis. … Zubov had two assists.

AP-ES-04-29-06 0043EDT

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