Game 7 on: Spot in conference finals at stake for Stars, Avs

Avalanche scoring wizard Nathan MacKinnon is from Canada and teammate Nikita Zadorov from Russia. Dallas center Radek Faksa hails from the Czech Republic and veteran Joe Pavelski from Wisconsin.

Know something that ties them all together?

“Regardless of where you’re born, Game 7 is a universal language,” Avalanche defenseman and Michigan native Ian Cole said.

No translation necessary: The high-scoring second-round series between the Avalanche and Stars all boils down to Friday.

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Avalanche win, and they overcome a 3-1 series deficit for the first time in franchise history. It would also be their first trip to the Western Conference finals since 2002.

Stars win, and they advance to their first Western Conference finals since 2008.

Whoever emerges faces the winner of the Vegas-Vancouver series.

Momentum has clearly swung to the Avalanche bench. They used a five-goal flurry in the first period to win 6-3 in Game 5 and played stellar defense to claim a 4-1 win in Game 6 to force a decisive contest.

“Our goal isn’t to get to Game 7,” Cole said. “Our goal is to win Game 7.”

Likewise for the Stars.

“Any Game 7 you play, whether it’s on the road or at home, or in Edmonton in a bubble, super-exciting time,” Stars forward Jamie Benn said. “We’re looking forward to it. This is a great opportunity to move on, and win a hockey game and bring our best, and that’s what we’re going to do.”

The magnitude of the moment isn’t lost on MacKinnon. He knows his Game 7 track record with Colorado — 0 for 2.

“Looking to change that,” said MacKinnon, who’s recorded at least a point in all 14 postseason games and leads the playoffs in scoring with nine goals and 16 assists.

Both teams had their seasons halted last season with second-round losses in Game 7. Colorado fell 3-2 to San Jose in the series finale, while Dallas lost to St. Louis to in double overtime.

The Avalanche may once again be relying on 30-year-old third-string goaltender Michael Hutchinson to save their season.

So far, he’s 2 for 2 in must-win games. Hutchinson took over with both starter Philipp Grubauer and backup Pavel Francouz sidelined.

It’s been an unlikely path for the third-string Hutchinson, who before this series had never started an NHL playoff game.

Now, he’s making history.

Hutchinson became the seventh goaltender in NHL playoff history to earn his first two career postseason victories in games where he was facing elimination. He joins Jacques Plante (1952), Robbie Moore (1978), Frank Pietrangelo (1990), Wade Flaherty (1994), Manny Fernandez (2002) and Michael Leighton (2009).

“The whole team trusts him,” Colorado forward Mikko Rantanen said. “He’s been really good for us.”

A little background on Hutchinson: Picked by Boston in the third round of the 2008 draft, he’s bounced around the league. He’s played for Winnipeg, Florida, Toronto and various minor league teams. Colorado acquired him in a February trade with Toronto and he made one regular season start for the Avs — on March 2, his 30th birthday. It was a win.

Along his journey, there were numerous times Hutchinson thought his career was over.

“You get sent down where you think you’re never going to play another NHL game,” he said. “Those moments, you put them behind and just enjoy playing hockey and have fun with it. Just keep working hard and try to be a good teammate.”

Hutchinson was once teammates with Dallas goaltender Anton Khudobin. They both played for the Providence Bruins of the American Hockey League in 2011-12. Hutchinson had a 2.36 goals-against average in 29 games, while Khudobin posted a 2.61 goals-against in 44 games, according to Hockey DB.

They figure to be key components Friday. Khudobin has stepped in for starter Ben Bishop.

The Stars know the stakes after losing a 3-1 lead in the series. They’re not dwelling on that, just looking forward to Game 7.

“Game 7s — they are special,” Pavelski said. “As a kid growing up, you think about them. As an adult, you lay in bed and you think about them at times. … This group wants to move on. We believe.

“There’s a lot of hockey left for us.”

The Avalanche had no update on the status of captain Gabriel Landeskog, who limped off the ice after taking the blade of a skate to his right leg late in the second period. Landeskog did briefly return in the third period.

Asked about the prospect of possibly being without Landeskog, forward Nazem Kadri responded: “I don’t even want to talk about that. So hopefully he’s in the lineup … He’s a big part of this team.”

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AP Sports Writers Stephen Hawkins contributed to this report.

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