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Panthers spoil opening night for Stars

by Steve Hunt /

DALLAS -- The Florida Panthers' newcomers spoiled the start of the Dallas Stars' new era.

Tim Thomas stopped 24 shots, and top draft pick Aleksander Barkov scored in his NHL debut as the Panthers defeated the Stars 4-2 on Thursday at American Airlines Center in the opener for each team.

"It had a lot of aspects to it: Our young players coming through and making a difference, a really nice goal, our veteran guys stepping up when they needed to," Florida coach Kevin Dineen said. "It was a mixture of things. That was a hard-fought win."

Dallas has a new general manager (Jim Nill), a new coach (Lindy Ruff) and new "Victory Green" uniforms, but couldn't hold off Florida. The Panthers trailed 2-1 but scored twice just over 4 1/2 minutes apart on goals by Barkov and Marcel Goc, who added an empty-netter.

"We just didn't play well enough," Ruff said. "Any time you give up [39] shots, you're going to have trouble. Maybe we thought it was going to be a little bit easy. We didn't win enough battles. We went by too many battles tonight, and stopped on pucks."

Barkov's goal came with bodies piling up around Kari Lehtonen in front of the Dallas net. The teenager found the loose puck, spun and shot it inside the left post to make it 2-2. Goc put Florida in front when he took a centering pass from Tomas Fleischmann and beat Lehtonen with 4:55 remaining.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Barkov, who only turned 18 on Sept. 2, became the youngest to score his first NHL goal in 71 years. At age 18 years, 31 days, he was 20 days older than Jackie Schmidt of the Boston Bruins when he scored a goal in a 7-6 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Nov. 22, 1942.

"Yeah, [Barkov] had a big game. He ended up playing well. He played great for us tonight," Kris Versteeg said of the No. 2 pick in the 2013 NHL Draft.

Thomas, playing in his first NHL game since April 2012 after signing with the Panthers in September, allowed goals by Alex Chiasson and Brenden Dillon.

"He gives you a chance to win and he makes the saves and gives you those little chances to win every night," Versteeg said of Thomas. "If he's going to keep doing that, then we'll take victories like that all season."

Three minutes before Barkov's goal, Dillon gave Dallas a 2-1 lead by scoring shorthanded. He trailed a play that was started near center ice by Vernon Fiddler and put the puck in an open net after Thomas stopped Antoine Roussel.

The Stars tied the game 1-1 at 7:32 of the second period when Chiasson went behind the net and stuffed the puck past Thomas, Tom Gilbert and Brian Campbell as the three converged; they knocked the net off its moorings just as Chiasson's shot crossed the goal line. Chiasson picked up the rebound after Thomas stopped Ray Whitney's slap shot from outside the left circle and skated around the right side of the net before scoring the equalizer.

Scott Gomez, a 14-year veteran and one of several 30-somethings added to the Panthers roster by general manager Dale Tallon, opened the scoring at 17:41 of the first period with a backhand shot from the crease after a pass from behind the net by Scottie Upshall.

Gomez started the sequence with a dump-in from near the Dallas blue line on the left side. Upshall collected the puck in the corner then flipped a feed to Gomez, who tapped it for his first goal in 22 games.

"This is a new day for him," Thomas said. "I know he's going to score a lot this year. The monkey's off his back."

The first period included a fight involving four players, two of whom, Florida's Dmitry Kulikov and Dallas' Ryan Garbutt, earned a game misconduct. The Panthers' Mike Weaver and the Stars' Antoine Roussel were involved, and 50 total penalty minutes were handed out.

Ruff lamented the fact the fight didn't really result in anything good for Dallas.

"After that, we gave a couple of pucks away, and that gave them a little pocket of energy," Ruff said.

Florida plays Saturday at the St. Louis Blues, the Panthers' second of four straight on the road to open the season. Dallas will host the Washington Capitals at American Airlines Center.

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