DALLAS — Philipp Grubauer was spectacularly stubborn in goal on a night when Colorado's defense got in on the offense.
Grubauer made a career-high 44 saves, including 23 in the third period, and defensemen Erik Johnson and Tyson Barrie scored to help the Avalanche beat the Dallas Stars 3-1 on Thursday night.
The Colorado goalie has allowed just two goals while facing 104 shots and carrying the Avalanche on a three-game winning streak that has vaulted Colorado into the Western Conference playoff picture.
"Over the last couple games, just take it chance by chance and situation by situation," Grubauer said. "Read the game, scan who's on the ice. Scan where they come from. Read where the puck is going. Just simplify it."
Colorado coach Jared Bednar said Grubauer was the difference against Dallas.
"We get a great goaltending performance from Grubauer and it's enough to win," Bednar said. "But I thought first 40 minutes especially, we did a lot of good things, and our guys are having fun right now. They want it, obviously you can see that."
Carl Soderberg added an empty-net goal with 49 seconds left for the final margin, helping the Avalanche leapfrog idle Minnesota for eighth place in the conference standings. Colorado took a deep tiebreaker lead over Arizona, which lost Thursday, for the second wild card. Colorado and Arizona have 78 points each, and the Avalanche currently would advance based on a better goal differential. The Coyotes will play at Colorado on March 29.
Tyler Seguin scored the lone goal for Dallas with 5:01 to play. Ben Bishop made 29 saves, but his personal winning streak ended at six games.
"I did think Colorado's desperation in the first period was above ours," Stars coach Jim Montgomery said. "In the second period, I thought it was even, and then in the third I thought our desperation exceeded theirs."
Even though the Stars are 1-2-1 in the first four games of a homestand, Montgomery insisted his team is on the right track.
"We're going to end up on the right side of the scoresheet if we keep playing this way," he said.
Dallas retained the first wild card by a four-point margin, but fell four points behind third-place St. Louis in the Central Division.
Colorado outshot the Stars 13-9 in the first period.
Momentum shifted in Dallas' direction in the second period - until the Avalanche scored at 17:20. Samuel Girard sent a pass to Johnson high in the left faceoff circle. Johnson one-timed a slap shot inside the left goalpost.
"I was ready for it," Bishop said. "He's just got kind of a heavy shot and just got on me quick. Maybe one I'd like to have back, but it was a pretty good shot."
After two periods, the shots were even at 21.
Barrie scored at 5:19 of the third, sending a wrist shot from the top of the right circle in off the left post.
"Creating offense is a five-man job," Bednar said, "so we need the help from our (defense) and we got it tonight. Tyson Barrie seems to have caught fire here a little bit."
Barrie has scored four of his 11 goals in the last three games.
Seguin, frustrated by Grubauer on close-in shots, finally scored from the outside edge of the right circle.
"I thought we all played pretty good," Bishop said. "I thought Grubauer played excellent and kind of stole the game."
NOTES: Johnson's goal, his first in 20 games, came on his 31st birthday. ... Barrie's goal was his 300th career point. ... Colorado acquired Grubauer in a trade with Washington completed during the 2018 NHL draft at the American Airlines Center, the Stars' home ice. ... Seguin's 28th goal ended a nine-game drought. He had 10 shots on goal. MacKinnon and Dallas captain Jamie Benn each had nine.
Avalanche: Return home Saturday for the first game of a back-to-back, home-and-home series with Chicago.
Stars: Complete a five-game homestand against Pittsburgh on Saturday before taking a four-game trip to western Canada.