DENVER (AP) — Wyatt Johnston scored twice on the eve of his 21st birthday as the Dallas Stars pushed Colorado to the brink of elimination Monday night with a 5-1 win in Game 4 that came hours after Avalanche standout Valeri Nichushkin was suspended for at least six months.

Johnston had shorthanded and power-play goals for the Stars, who grabbed a 3-1 lead in the second-round, best-of-seven series. Dallas can close it out at home in Game 5 on Wednesday.

Miro Heiskanen and Evgenii Dadonov also scored, while Sam Steel added a late empty-net goal. Jake Oettinger made 24 saves.

About an hour before the game, the National Hockey League and National Hockey League Players’ Association announced that Nichushkin was suspended for at least six months without pay. He was placed in stage 3 of the league’s player assistance program. It’s the second time this season Nichushkin has been in the program.

A Colorado lineup missing Nichushkin, the team’s leading goal scorer (nine) in this playoff run, struggled early to get on track and was outshot by a 16-2 margin in the first period. Casey Mittelstadt scored Colorado’s lone goal.

The Avalanche also were without standout defenseman Devon Toews, who was a late scratch due to an illness. Colorado’s defense couldn’t prevent Johnston and the Stars from building a 3-0 lead in the second period. Dallas has yet to trail in regulation during the series.

Johnston, who turns 21 on Tuesday, scored his 10th and 11th career playoff goals. He became the eighth player in NHL history to reach double-digit postseason goals at age 20 or younger, according to league research.

The Stars saw forward Roope Hintz leave the game after suffering an upper-body injury in the opening period.

Alexandar Georgiev was kept busy all night, stopping 29 shots.

Avalanche forward Jonathan Drouin played in his first postseason game this season, stepping in to fill the void of Nichushkin. Drouin has been sidelined since he suffered a lower-body injury in the regular-season finale.

Caleb Jones was inserted into the lineup with Toews out and was whistled for two penalties.

The Avalanche dropped both home games to Dallas in this series. Colorado posted the NHL’s best home record (31-9-1) in the regular season.

Johnston took advantage of a Cale Makar turnover late in the first period and scored a shorthanded goal to give the Stars a 1-0 lead. It’s the second shorthanded goal of the series for Dallas.

The Stars have outscored the Avalanche 6-0 in the opening period.

Colorado’s frustration was on display after the first-period buzzer, with Colorado defenseman Josh Manson taking exception to Jamie Benn running into Georgiev. Manson pounced on Benn and both were hit with penalties — Manson for roughing and Benn for goaltender interference.

Benn delivered a big hit on Toews in Game 2.

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