DALLAS (Reuters) - The Dallas Stars outmuscled the Colorado Avalanche 4-2 in a must-win game to keep their playoff hopes alive on Thursday.

The ninth-place Stars have won three straight and trail the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks and Anaheim Ducks by two points with two games remaining for all three teams.

"It was a good win. I thought that our start was really impressive," Dallas coach Marc Crawford said. "They want nothing more than to win for each other. That's a powerful quality to have as a group."

Brad Richards iced the victory at 4-2 just 1:35 after Mark Olver drew the Avalanche to within one for the second time near the mid-point of the third period.

"He's started to get a little bit more in those high traffic areas and that's powerful for us," Crawford said in praise of Richards, who knocked in the loose puck after a goal mouth scramble.

"He got to the net for the rebound. Those are the types of goals that you score in the playoffs where you have to stay on pucks and pay a price."

The Stars grabbed a 2-0 lead on first period goals by Tom Wandell and Loui Eriksson 1:35 apart.

Brandon Yip scored the only goal in the second period to draw the Avalanche to within one, but Dallas captain Brenden Morrow restored the two-goal lead 52 seconds into the third.

"Most of the guys can say to themselves that they did everything they could to help the team win," Colorado coach Joe Sacco said. "It was good for guys to see what playoff hockey was like, because for Dallas that was playoff hockey."

(Reporting by Mike Mouat in Windsor, Ontario; Editing by Alastair Himmer)