NEW YORK -- For a while there, the whole media circus that was sparked by Sean Avery's return to the Big Apple turned out to be much ado about nothing.
Sure, he was booed nearly every time he touched the puck. Sure, he received a couple of big hits from some former teammates. In the end, though, it was Avery's Dallas Stars who had the last laugh in Monday night's 2-1 win against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.
Avery blew off a herd of reporters afterward, having only this to say: "Guys, I love you. But I have to go and take my teammates out to dinner while they still like me. Thanks for coming."
And off he went. Most were under the impression that was all they would get out of No. 16 on Monday night.
But Avery couldn't leave without taking a few jabs at some Blueshirts -- namely Brandon Dubinsky and Steve Valiquette, who had some negative things to say about their former teammate.
"Valiquette really is a minor-leaguer," Avery said. "He's got nothing better to do than talk about me. Dubie's a great player. He works hard and he's going to be a good player for a long time. That's just the way it goes. I've certainly said a lot of things about other guys. It's good to get a little taste of my own medicine."
During warm-ups, it was Avery who was providing the medicine. Avery wasted little time in finding Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist for a little chat, but the latter declined to share what his former teammate said.
"No," Lundqvist said. "It's not going to be in the paper."
"That's just me being me and getting myself in the game," Avery said.
Not lost in the shuffle was the game that took place in Avery's old stomping grounds. Mike Modano broke a 1-1 tie on a gorgeous wrist shot from the left circle that beat Lundqvist at 8:03 of the third period, which proved to be the game-winner.
It was a huge lift for the Stars, who were beginning a three-game road trip that continues on Wednesday night in New Jersey and concludes on Thursday against the New York Islanders.
"Just a lucky bounce … just kind of hanging in the right area at the right time," said Modano, who now has three goals this season. The pass out of the corner (from B.J. Crombeen) just went off Lundqvist right to me. Right spot at the right time. We hung in there and stayed with it."
"I think we took care of their better players pretty well tonight," said Lundqvist, who finished with 25 saves. "We managed to keep the scoring chances low, and so did they. It was a pretty tight game. (Modano) got the puck there and made a pretty smart play."
It didn't take very long for the Rangers to try to spoil Avery's return. Markus Naslund -- one of the men brought in to replace Avery -- put New York in front just 58 seconds into the game on a power-play tally. After Stars forward Loui Eriksson was whistled for tripping, Michal Rozsival fired a shot from the point that missed the net. But the puck bounced right back in front, and Naslund one-timed it past Marty Turco (28 saves) as the Rangers took a 1-0 lead.
"We got a good start," Lundqvist said. "We got off to a really good start and had good speed. They played smart. They're a good team. They played pretty solid."
Indeed they did, as the Stars tied the game on a nifty power-play goal by Brenden Morrow at 5:28 of the second period. With Ryan Callahan in the box for tripping, Morrow got to the front of the net, where he was tripped up by Daniel Girardi. Morrow, though, managed to poke the puck past Lundqvist while lying on the ice to make it 1-1. It was his second goal of the season -- one that came in remarkable fashion.
"None of them are pretty," Morrow joked. "That's probably the ugliest I've ever scored. I've got some nasty ones, but I don't think I've ever scored from my back before. We needed something to go our way to get some momentum going. All three of the goals tonight were lucky breaks."
During the morning skate on Monday, Stars coach Dave Tippett went out of his way to say that Avery "was just another player on the team," and downplayed his return to Broadway. Up until Avery's post-game comments -- which came after Tippett had already addressed the media -- Tippett couldn't have done a better job of predicting what truly was on the verge of being an anticlimactic night.
"You guys create that, not us," Tippett said of the hype. "Sean's just a player in the game. He's trying to find his way with our team, and he still has some work to do. He plays with energy, he plays with tenacity and that's what we expected. In the end, it's about the two teams. It's not about individuals. I'm sure (Rangers coach) Tom Renney had his group feeling the same way. That's the great thing about our game -- it's not about individuals. It's about teams."
Dallas became Avery's fourth team when he signed a four-year deal worth $15.5 million in July. And while he's locked up for the considerable future, Avery did not rule out a return to New York before he calls it quits.
"Who knows … I could be back in a (Rangers) jersey at some point," Avery said. "I think my career's going to go for a long time, and I love the game. I wish this organization the best of luck. They were great to me. Now, I'm with a new organization that I'm really excited about and I'm going to try and win a Cup with."
"Guys, I love you. But I have to go and take my teammates out to dinner while they still like me. Thanks for coming" -- Sean Avery to the media after the Dallas Stars' 2-1 victory over the New York Rangers
As it turns out, the boos that rained down from the MSG faithful didn't bother Avery one bit. Actually, he kind of enjoyed the heckling.
"It's The Garden … that's why this is the greatest arena on Earth," Avery said. "There was a mixture of cheers and boos, and I think I was actually enjoying the boos just as much as the cheers. That's what great about this place. I wish these guys all the best of luck. It was a good game."
Contact Brian Compton at: firstname.lastname@example.org.