The 20-year-old became the first player in the 85-year history of the Rangers and the fourth in the NHL since 1927 to score three goals in his first NHL game, powering New York to a season-opening 6-3 victory over the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday night.
"Not a chance could I have dreamed this," Stepan said after becoming the first Ranger in 55 years to get a hat trick on opening night. "You dream about playing in the NHL, and then you go out and play like that, I mean the hockey gods must have been looking down on me. It was a fun night overall, that's for sure."
Stepan, the captain of the U.S. team that won the gold medal at the World Junior Championship in January, turned pro this summer after leading the University of Wisconsin to the NCAA championship game -- and impressed the Rangers enough to earn a roster spot. He joined Montreal's Alex Smart in 1943, Quebec's Real Cloutier in 1979 and Dallas' Fabian Brunnstrom two years ago as the only players to score three times in their first game.
"We're really happy for him," goalie Henrik Lundqvist said. "Hopefully, he can keep doing what he's doing because he was really good in camp and tonight, I mean, Wow!"
Brandon Dubinsky had two goals, including an empty-netter, and Eric Christensen also scored for the Rangers. Jordan Leopold had two goals and Derek Roy also scored for the Sabres, who lost their home opener one night after beginning their season with a 2-1 victory at Ottawa.
Stepan became the first Ranger since Jarkko Immonen on April 6, 2006, to score a goal in his NHL debut when Dan Girardi's shot from the right point hit his leg, caromed off Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers and slid into the net at 10:53 of the opening period.
"I wanted it to be where it bounced off the other team because that's the way everyone, I think, scores their first goal," Stepan said. "Off the elbow pad, off the shin pad, off someone else. That's part of the process."
Myers was involved in the Rangers' second goal as well. He slipped behind the net and turned over the puck to Artem Anisimov. The second-year center came out to the left of Ryan Miller and slid a pass to an onrushing Dubinsky, who slammed it past Miller at 16:42 for a two-goal lead.
"That might have been one of our poorest first periods as far as skating and puck movement," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "There were a lot of bad decisions, and it cost us dearly."
The Rangers held onto their two-goal lead until midway through the second period, when Paul Gaustad won a draw back to Leopold at center point. Leopold's blast went through traffic and past Lundqvist.
But Stepan then put the game away by scoring twice in a span of 3:12.
Red Wings 3, Blackhawks 2 | HIGHLIGHTS
Detroit's Valtteri Filppula helped sour the Stanley Cup celebration by scoring twice, including the game-winner in the third period, to spoil Chicago's home opener.
Before the game, it was the Hawks and their fans having all the fun by putting a final cap on the Cup title. Captain Jonathan Toews even got a feel for what it would've been like to win at home when he skated it to center ice over a computerized red carpet while hoisting the Cup.
"There was nothing better than that," Toews said. "I guess that was it, though. That was cool. Unfortunately it would have been nice to get a win tonight and really give the fans a salute at the end of the game – but we'll be doing that often enough pretty soon I hope."
Once the ceremony concluded, it was back to "meaningful" hockey for both teams – though the Hawks were without defenseman Brian Campbell and forward Patrick Sharp, who was scratched with an undisclosed upper body injury earlier in the day.
The Wings struck first on Filppula's first goal 12:59 into the game, assisted by a great feed from Todd Bertuzzi to beat Hawks goalie Marty Turco. It looked like the Wings would take the 1-0 lead into the first intermission until Viktor Stalberg broke free in the Detroit zone and drew a hooking penalty by Ruslan Salei with 1:26 left in the period.
Defenseman Brent Seabrook then prompted the first official playing of the Hawks' goal song, "Chelsea Dagger" by slapping home a one-timer off a great feed by Marian Hossa with just 0.5 seconds left.
Bertuzzi put Detroit back up quickly with his first goal of the season just 1:12 into the second, with the goal withstanding a video review. Not to be outdone, Bryan Bickell countered for the Hawks 37 seconds later with his second of the season to make it 2-2.
The Hawks largely controlled the action from that point for the rest of the second period, but couldn't get a shot past Chris Osgood. Filppula then scored his second goal – the eventual game-winner -- on a power play 7:01 into the third after Hawks defenseman John Scott tripped in the Chicago zone.
Filppula skated around Scott and flipped a puck over a sprawled out Niklas Hjalmarsson to beat Turco through the five hole.
"Definitely a lot of luck," Filppula said. "There's not much to say there. It's good that it went in, but so lucky."
Coyotes 5, Bruins 2 | HIGHLIGHTS
Vrbata had 2 goals and an assist and was named the first star of the game. Hanzal and Prucha had four shots apiece and each finished plus-1 as the Coyotes won the opener of the 2010 Compuware NHL Premiere series in Prague.
"It was special, especially for us Czech guys," Vrbata told NHL.com."We got a good introduction early. Everyone was cheering when we were introduced. It was really nice."
Virtually everything on this night was nice for Phoenix, which earned all of its good fortune. For Boston, its first regular-season game in Europe was not one for the memory banks and, afterward, the Bruins said they had nobody but themselves to blame.
"I thought we were flat in the beginning and couldn't get anything going," said Boston captain Zdeno Chara, who signed a seven-year contract extension right before the game.
The fairy-tale story for Phoenix began when Vrbata opened the scoring with eight minutes gone in first period to author one of the signature moments of the NHL's return to Prague. The NHL held a Premiere Game series between the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning two years ago, a series in which Vrbata also played.
On the goal, Vrbata was able to bunt home a shot that caromed crazily off the glass behind the goal after a point shot that was wide of the goal from Adrian Aucoin drew Boston goalie Tuukka Rask out of position.
"It was a good bounce off the glass," Vrbata told NHL.com. "They all count, no matter how you score them."
Vrbata was free off to Rask's left because Boston's defensive coverage had collapsed, a theme that was present throughout this night.
Vrbata also added an empty-net goal in the dying seconds.
Blue Jackets 3, Sharks 2 (OT) | HIGHLIGHTS
Ethan Moreau scored 1:56 into overtime to give Columbus a split with San Jose in their 2010 Compuware NHL Premiere series in Stockholm.
Moreau's goal was the result of a great play by Blue Jackets center Samuel Pahlsson to take the puck from Sharks winger Dany Heatley in the neutral zone. Pahlsson, a native of Ange, Sweden, chased down Heatley and drilled him into the boards near the Columbus blue line. Defenseman Fedor Tyutin fed a streaking Moreau, who scored his second of the season with a wrist shot that deflected off the catching glove of Sharks goaltender Antero Niittymaki and into the net.
"Big play, back-checking hard through the middle and creating a turnover," said Jackets coach Scott Arniel, who earned his first NHL coaching win. "Sammy Pahlsson had a tremendous weekend going head-to-head with Joe Thornton. He did a great job in the faceoff circle and playing against a guy who has him in size."
Niittymaki, who was making his first start as a Shark after signing with the team in July, failed to impress after Antti Niemi earned the victory on Friday.
After Devin Setoguchi gave the Sharks a 1-0 lead 2:02 into the game with a power-play goal, Jackets star Rick Nash tied the score 1:11 later with a bad-angle shot that slipped through Niittymaki's pads. Nash was positioned along the goal line near the right post, but Niittymaki couldn't squeeze the shot.
"It was a bad goal that found a hole somewhere," said Niittymaki, who made 22 saves. "But I would do the same thing. I felt it hit my glove and I hoped it would've stayed there."
Niittymaki was even less pleased about Moreau's winner.
"I think I got out pretty good and I thought I got a good piece of it," Niittymaki said. "I was surprised it went in. I couldn't believe it. I'm kind of (upset) about that."
Niittymaki had no chance on a power-play goal by Kristian Huselius at 5:07 of the third period that gave the Jackets their first lead of the season. Nikita Filatov found Huselius with a cross-ice pass that the native of Osterhaninge, Sweden, wristed past a helpless Niittymaki to make it 2-1 Jackets. It was the second goal of the season for Huselius.
Kings 2, Canucks 1 (SO) | HIGHLIGHTS
L.A.'s Justin Williams tied the game with 4:05 remaining in regulation, and shootout goals by Anze Kopitar and Jack Johnson gave the victory, spoiling the festive anniversary atmosphere at the newly renamed Rogers Arena.
Roberto Luongo with a backhander; Johnson scored with a shot to the stick side. Jonathan Quick, who made 23 saves through 65 minutes, got Mason Raymond to miss and stopped Ryan Kesler's shot.
"It was a hard-fought game both sides, it came down to a shootout," said Luongo, who finished with 31 saves. "When we get into those types of situations, it can go either way and unfortunately for us tonight, it didn't go our way."
It was the Kings' first game since the Canucks eliminated them from the playoffs last spring. Don't think they didn't enjoy exacting a little revenge.
"They booted us out of our ultimate dream last year, and we kind of spoiled their opening night here tonight and we're happy for that," Williams said.
Added Quick: "The boys came in here with a bit of a chip on their shoulder just because of (last season). But at the end of the day it's one game of 82 so take it for what it's worth."
The uniforms were a blast from the past: The Kings, the youngest club in the League with an average age of 25.4, wore their old-time purple and gold while the Canucks' sported the "stick-in-the-rink" stylized C on the front of their white jerseys. In another retro touch, neither team had names on its jerseys.
Most members of the 1970-71 Canucks team were introduced in pre-game ceremonies that included the naming of Henrik Sedin as the club's 13th captain. But just as was the case 40 years ago, the Canucks couldn't put enough pucks in the net.
Christian Ehrhoff did put the Canucks ahead at 11:58 of the second period, shoveling home a power-play rebound in the crease after taking Daniel Sedin's pass with his skate.
Maple Leafs 5, Senators 1 | HIGHLIGHTS
Two games. Two victories. A 2-0-0 mark might not seem like much to a lot of teams, but it's a big turnaround for the Leafs, who started 0-7-1 last season and didn't get their second victory until their 14th game.
"They're better players -- period," coach Ron Wilson said of the difference between last year's start and now.
The Leafs got goals from five players, including newcomers Kris Versteeg, Clarke MacArthur and Tim Brent. Phil Kessel and Nikolai Kulemin also scored, and Jean-Sebastien Giguere faced only 18 shots as the Leafs' up-tempo style limited Ottawa's offense.
"That's a great style of hockey for our team," MacArthur said. "We didn't really give them a chance to even get anything going. We finished hits everywhere. That's what we want to do, we want to be rough and we want to slow guys down a lot finishing hits all nights.
"It wears teams out."
Kulemin and Kessel beat Pascal Leclaire in the first 7:51 to put the Leafs ahead. MacArthur scored in the second period, and goals by Versteeg and Brent made it 5-0 before Jason Spezza spoiled Giguere's shutout with 12:49 to play.
Ottawa lost its opener at home to Buffalo on Friday and fell to 0-2-0. Coach Cory Clouston wasn't happy with what he saw.
"Very disappointing," Clouston said. "We thought we had a pretty positive preseason, had a good week of practice. We've been outworked, outcompeted and out-executed in all areas right now."
Capitals 7, Devils 2 | HIGHLIGHTS
Alex Ovechkin scored twice in a four-goal second period as the Capitals chased Martin Brodeur and evened their record at 1-1-0 by winning their home opener and routing one of the teams they figure to battle for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
"I think we did make a statement," forward Mike Knuble said. "I think we showed we're not the same team we were last year. We have some different personnel. We can do it on the scoreboard and we have guys who can respond when it gets physical. It is good to see."
Brodeur is the NHL's all-time leader in wins, but he yielded five goals on 19 shots and did not return for the third period. He's allowed nine goals in 102 minutes as the Devils dropped their second straight contest to start the season.
Brodeur yielded five goals only four times last season and never gave up nine in back-to-back appearances.
"It's just a couple of bounces there," coach John MacLean said. "The [first] Ovechkin goal bounced before it went it. It was a team effort – it wasn't just one guy."
Defenseman Anton Volchenkov left the game in the first period with a broken nose after taking a shot in the face and did not return. Forward Brian Rolston also missed much of the third period, and the status of both players is uncertain for Monday.
Canadiens 3, Penguins 2 | HIGHLIGHTS
Mike Cammalleri's scoring touch made the trip across the street from Mellon Arena to the new Consol Energy Center.
Cammalleri, who had seven goals against Pittsburgh in Montreal's upset of the Penguins last spring, scored twice as the Canadiens rallied for a pair of late goals to keep the Pens winless in their new home. He tied the game with 2:12 left in regulation, and Scott Gomez beat Marc-Andre Fleury 24 seconds later to give the Canadiens their first victory of the new season.
"Cammalleri is a real quality player and he has the ability to score key goals," Montreal coach Jacques Martin said. "He has a nose for the net."
Cammalleri's game-tying goal came when he was second Montreal player to deflect a Josh Gorges shot from the right boards. Gomez scored on the next shift, skating down the left wing and sliding a weak shot through Fleury's pads.
"We were both battling and going to the net, just trying to go to the net after point shots," Cammalleri said of his goal. "It was a big goal, and a big two points for us."
Counting the playoffs, Cammalleri has scored in his last five games in Pittsburgh.
One thing that was different from last spring was the player in goal for Montreal. Playoff hero Jaroslav Halak was traded during the summer, and Carey Price is now the undisputed No. 1 goaltender. Price was sharp against the Pens, stopping 36 shots as Pittsburgh fell to 0-2-0 in its new home.
"Carey was really good, but you know what? We expect him to be that way," Cammalleri said. "I don't think that was anything out of the ordinary for him -- that's Carey Price. I loved his body language, he made some game-winning saves throughout the game, so well done by him."
Cammalleri opened the scoring at 15:24 of the opening period. Evgeni Malkin tied it 40 seconds into the second period, and Mark Letestu put the Penguins ahead at 8:42 of the third. That looked like it might stand up as the winner until Montreal's late burst.
"We let it slip away, that's basically what happened," said Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, who assisted on Malkin's goal. "We didn't put the game away. We had a lead and had some real good chances. We didn't get the two-goal lead there, and it ended up hurting us."
Blues 2, Flyers 1 (OT) | HIGHLIGHTS
Halak's debut with the Blues was a success as well. He stopped 29 shots in his first game with St. Louis and got the win when Carlo Colaiacovo scored 1:47 into overtime.
Colaiacovo followed Alex Steen's backhander and fired a slap shot over the left shoulder of goalie Brian Boucher to give the Blues a win in their season opener at Scottrade Center.
"You hope for an opportunity like that throughout the game," Colaiacovo said. "Luckily, I just found myself in the right spot at the right time. Thankfully, it went in. Huge goal for us, huge win for us."
Brad Boyes scored a first-period power-play goal for the Blues. Halak made it stand up until Danny Briere scored early in the third.
"I got a few (shots) after a while, but I was still in the game. I was trying to focus," Halak said. "I felt comfortable out there and it showed at the end of the game.
"It's great to win that first game."
The Flyers, who won their first game at Pittsburgh on Thursday, nearly won it in regulation, but Briere's shot with 3:31 left in regulation hit the crossbar.
"I thought we played a good game," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said. "The more the game went on, the better we played."
Lightning 5, Thrashers 3 | HIGHLIGHTS
Steven Stamkos made sure new coach Guy Boucher and rookie GM Steve Yzerman came up winners in their NHL debuts, scoring twice as the Lightning opened their season by beating the visiting Thrashers.
"It's a good way to start a season," said Stamkos,, who tied for the NHL goal-scoring lead last season with 51.
Steve Downie, Dominic Moore and Vincent Lecavalier also scored for the Lightning in their season opener.
"I've played with Stamkos a couple of times at the world championships and I know he's got unbelievable hands," said Atlanta goalie Chris Mason, who made 31 saves. "Both his goals were great tips."
Steve Downie, Dominic Moore and Vincent Lecavalier also scored for the Lightning, which led 4-0 but needed Stamkos' second goal of the night midway through the third period after Atlanta cut the margin to one goal when Chris Thorburn scored early in the third period.
The clinching goal was a superb waist-high redirection past goaltender Chris Mason.
"I've played with Stamkos a couple of times at the world championships and I know he's got unbelievable hands," said Mason, who made 31 saves. "Both his goals were great tips."
Yzerman was named GM after the Lightning missed the playoffs for the third season in a row. He hired Boucher, who led Hamilton to the AHL semifinals in his one season with Hamilton.
tests and so far everything is normal. We'll just hope for the best."
"Yes it does ... it feels good," Boucher said.
The Thrashers were without goaltender Ondrej Pavelec, who is still hospitalized after collapsing early in Friday's season-opener. He was diagnosed with a concussion.
"I talked to him," coach Craig Ramsay said. "He sounded great. He had a great attitude. They've been doing a lot of tests and so far everything is normal. We'll just hope for the best."
Stars 5, Islanders 4 (SO) | HIGHLIGHTS
Mike Ribeiro scored the only goal of the shootout as Dallas completed a two-game sweep of the New York metropolitan area by beating the Islanders at the Nassau Coliseum.
For NHL.com's complete story, click here.
Predators 4, Ducks 1 | HIGHLIGHTS
Nashville scored three times in the second period to win its season-opener before a sellout crowd at Bridgestone Arena. Anaheim fell to 0-2-0 and has been outscored 8-1 in the two games.
For NHL.com's complete story, click here.