DENVER (AP) — Colorado Avalanche forward Jonathan Drouin returned to the lineup Monday night against Dallas, trying to fill a scoring void on the heels of Valeri Nichushkin’s suspension.

Drouin had an assist in just over 19 minutes of action during a 5-1 loss to the Stars in Game 4 that pushed the Avalanche to the brink of elimination in the second-round series. He’d been sidelined since he suffered a lower-body injury in the regular-season finale. Drouin posted career-high numbers in points (56) and assists (37) in his first season with the Avalanche.

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

“We’re missing a hell of a player,” Drouin said of Nichushkin. “He’s so big and so strong, and he’s so good in the playoffs this year. Every guy has to step up, not only one guy, but it’s going to be a team effort.”

The Avalanche trail the Stars 3-1 as the series heads to Dallas for Game 5 on Wednesday night.

The Avalanche were without defenseman Devon Toews, who was a late scratch Monday due to an illness.

“You go home expecting both (Nichushkin and Toews) to play, but it’s unfortunate the way that it ended up,” defenseman Cale Makar said. “But at the same time we have a deep group. We get ‘Drou’ back so there’s a lot of confidence in the room. We’ve got to find ways to start better.”

Drouin was hurt when he tripped in the second period against Edmonton on April 18. He watched Colorado advance in the first round over Winnipeg and as the Stars won two of the first three games in the second-round series.

“Obviously, when you miss a month, close to a month and you come back and now second-round of the playoffs, some shifts are a little tougher than others,” Drouin said. “At the end of the day, it was fun playing and kind of getting back with the team a little bit there.”

For most of the season, the 29-year-old Drouin typically was on the same line as Mikko Rantanen and his good friend Nathan MacKinnon. He was paired with Zach Parise and Casey Mittelstadt on Monday. Mittelstadt scored Colorado’s lone goal.

“Very smart player — high, high hockey IQ and very good vision,” Rantanen said of Drouin. “It’s a big addition, obviously.”

Drouin joined the power-play unit in practice Monday morning. The Avalanche are 2 for 10 on the power play in the series against the Stars.

“He (Drouin) was great for us all year,” Avalanche defenseman Josh Manson said. “I know in the playoffs he’s a hard-nose kind of guy, and he will be stepping up and wanting to contribute.”

Drouin almost instantly fit in after signing with Colorado as a free agent over the summer. His 19 goals were fifth on the team.

“We’ve missed him while he’s been out,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said. “He has the ability to move around our lineup and help with the skill portion of it, the skating portion of it. He’s become a really trusted defensive player for us. So he brings a lot to the table.”

Drouin, the third overall pick by Tampa Bay in 2013, has now played in 34 postseason games with the Lightning, Montreal Canadiens and Avalanche. He has six playoff goals and 16 assists.

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