paid early dividends for the Dallas Stars
on Thursday night — quite a few of them, in fact.
Richards set a Dallas record with five assists while playing his first game with the Stars since being acquired from Tampa Bay at Tuesday’s trade deadline. Three of them came on goals by new linemate Niklas Hagman, who had his first NHL hat trick, and the Stars made it 13 wins in their last 15 games by defeating the Chicago Blackhawks 7-4 at American Airlines Center.
“I was so nervous. It felt like a first game or a Game 7,” said Richards, who played one of those in the Stanley Cup Final four seasons ago, when the Lightning beat the Calgary Flames and Richards won the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP. “I just wanted to get in here and hopefully fit in.”
Richards didn’t just fit in. He stuck out — and for all the right reasons. After putting up 18 goals and 51 points but a minus-25 rating in 62 games with Tampa Bay, he was nothing short of spectacular in becoming the first Dallas player to record a five-point game since Mike Modano on Feb. 10, 2002.
“He’s slick with the puck, he’s an excellent playmaker,” Stars captain Brenden Morrow said. “He’s opportunistic. You give him a little space out there, he’s going to create something. He’s on quite a pace here. The expectations are pretty high. Hopefully he can keep it rolling.”
Trevor Daley and Jere Lehtinen were also the beneficiaries of Richards’ assists, while Mike Modano and Loui Eriksson had the other goals for the Stars. Marty Turco stopped 25 shots.
Rene Bourque paced the Blackhawks with a pair of shorthanded goals. Dustin Byfuglien and newcomer Andrew Ladd tallied as well, but Chicago coach Denis Savard said his team made far too many mistakes against a team with the Stars’ firepower.
“The main thing is we battled and worked, and as I told our guys after the game, at this level you can’t afford any mental mistakes — because if you do, it’s going to end up in your net,” he said. “We have to learn from it and move on.”
It didn’t take long for Richards to make himself noticed. He took the ice wearing No. 91 — a reverse on the No. 19 he wore throughout his career with the Lightning — and won a faceoff to begin his first shift. After Byfuglien gave the Blackhawks a 1-0 lead at 4:08 of the first period, Richards helped the Stars get even 49 seconds later by setting up Hagman’s first goal. Modano gave them a 2-1 lead with an unassisted goal five minutes later.
Richards was at it again early in the second. He fed Antti Miettinen on a rush and Miettinen sent the puck to Hagman, who beat Patrick Lalime for his second of the night. That sparked the Stars to three goals in a 3:47 span, with Eriksson and Daley making it 5-1 after 40 minutes.
The teams traded goals throughout the third. After Bourque’s first shorthander, Hagman completed his hat trick by taking advantage of room in front of the net and putting a shot past Corey Crawford, who had replaced Lalime.
“I pretty much just kept my stick on the ice. Everything else just fell into place,” said Hagman, who has a career-high 25 goals this season. “There were a couple of nice plays that the guys did, and maybe I had the easiest part of all.
“I knew that he was a really good player,” added Hagman, who used to battle against Richards regularly when Hagman played for the Florida Panthers. “Like today showed, he’s a little bit more like a playmaker, but he’s still got a good shot. He finds his way to the net, too, so he’s a threat all over the ice. Richards had similar praise for his new linemate.
“He was always tough to play against — he’s just 100 miles an hour to the net and you saw how he scored some of those goals,” Richards said. “He knows where it is and he’s a great player.”
Two members of the Minnesota North Stars had five assists in a game, Murray Oliver and Larry Murphy, but the feat had not been accomplished since the franchise relocated to Dallas in 1993.
Richards admitted that if he could have drawn up his first game in Dallas he couldn’t have come up with anything better.
“Every second’s been unbelievable. I’m just so happy to be here and get this chance to be on a team that has a chance,” Richards said. “Hopefully I didn’t put the expectations too high.”
Bruins 5, Penguins 1 | Video
Marian Hossa’s debut with the Penguins didn’t last long. Hossa, playing his first game with the Penguins after being acquired from the Atlanta Thrashers on Tuesday, didn’t make it through the second period. He sprained the medial collateral ligament in his right knee after colliding with Bruins winger Glen Murray and had to leave the game. Early indications are that Hossa could miss a week or more.
"It was an accidental hit, knee-on-knee," Hossa said. "This is disappointing. I was trying to get comfortable with my linemates. But injuries happen, and this is the tough luck of the business we're in."
The game was no better for the Penguins. Boston goaltender Tim Thomas came within seven minutes of his second consecutive shutout, finishing with 27 saves, and Marco Sturm scored his 200th NHL goal as the Bruins delighted the fans at TD Banknorth Garden while preventing the Penguins from taking the Eastern Conference lead.
Thomas, who blanked the Ottawa Senators at home two nights earlier, helped the Bruins keep pace with the New York Rangers and remain tied for sixth place in the East.
“We’re coming into the most important time of the year,” Thomas said. “We just had an excellent road trip and came home and beared down against two very good teams to get the points. After a successful road trip like that I’ve seen it happen quite often where the teams come home and let up. The standings are so tight, we can’t afford to do that.”
Sturm made sure the Bruins started strong by staking them to a 2-0 first-period lead. Zdeno Chara, P.J. Axelsson and David Krejci also found the net in Boston’s fifth straight victory.
“It was just a great effort, the whole team,” Sturm said. “They shut down the big lines, obviously after that big trade they made, with Hossa. We did a great job and just have to keep it rolling.”
Sturm redirected Chuck Kobasew’s shot past Ty Conklin at 9:49 of the first and scored on a slapper from the left circle 2:18 later for his 22nd of the season and the 200th of his career.
“It’s awesome. I never thought about that, but I got a long way to go and hopefully score a lot more goals,” said Strum, who came to Boston two years ago in a trade with San Jose.
Chara’s slap shot went off the leg of Petr Sykora and into the net 2:29 into the second, making it 3-0 and ending Conklin’s night. He was replaced by Marc-Andre Fleury, who played for the first time since suffering a high ankle sprain Dec. 6 against Calgary. Fleury made 16 saves, but got a rude welcome back from Axelsson, who made it 4-0 with 3:59 left in the second.
Pascal Dupuis, who came over from Atlanta with Hossa, broke up Thomas’ shutout bid with 6:57 left in regulation. Krejci got the goal back for the Bruins with 2:11 remaining.
"We figured out we're a simple team. We're not pretty, and you could even call us ugly," defenseman Aaron Ward said. "But you have to have your niche in the league, and we do."
Islanders 5, Thrashers 4, OT | Video
Trent Hunter saved the Islanders from what could have been an embarrassing and damaging loss. Hunter scored off Josef Vasicek’s pass 1:09 into overtime as the Islanders recovered from blowing an early 3-0 lead and a 4-3 advantage in the final two minutes of regulation. Their win at Philips Arena kept them just two points out of eighth in the Eastern Conference and sent the reeling Thrashers to their fifth straight defeat.
“We kind of let them back into the game there, but we were able to keep battling and get that extra point in overtime,” Hunter said.
The Islanders lost a faceoff in the Atlanta zone early in OT, but Vasicek stole the puck from defenseman Ken Klee in the left corner and heard Hunter calling for a pass.
"I saw him by himself," Vasicek said. "We try to talk to each other. He lets me know when he's open. He made a great play."
Mike Comrie scored two goals and Vasicek and Andy Hilbert each had one for the Islanders, who appeared to be rolling when Hilbert made it 3-0 just 1:02 into the second period.
But the tone of the game changed quickly. With the Islanders on a power play, Atlanta’s Eric Perrin was pulled down by defenseman Bryan Berard on a breakaway, earning a penalty shot. Perrin used a sweeping move that had Rick DiPietro going the wrong way and beat the Isles netminder at 3:53 to start Atlanta’s rally. Klee and fellow defenseman Alexei Zhitnik scored goals 1:14 apart later in the period to tie the game.
Comrie beat Kari Lehtonen from the slot to put the Islanders back in front 3:17 into the third for second of the night and 20th of the season. But veteran center Bobby Holik forced overtime when he beat DiPietro through a screen with 1:22 remaining.
"We have to get points and wins," said newly acquired forward Colby Armstrong, who had an assist in his first game with the Thrashers after coming from Pittsburgh on Tuesday in the trade that sent Marian Hossa to Pittsburgh.
Although Hunter bailed them out in the end, coach Ted Nolan is looking for more attention to detail from the team so future leads don’t slip away. “It’s just the simple things,” Nolan said. “We just didn’t do it again but fortunately for us we found a way to get two points.”
Rangers 4, Hurricanes 2 | Video
New York jumped out to a 3-0 lead and held on to win a battle of surging teams at the RBC Center. Henrik Lundqvist made 26 saves as the Rangers won their third straight and sixth in eight games. The Hurricanes had won three in a row and six of eight.
"We really don't have a choice right now," Lundqvist said. "It's so tight in the standings. Focus is important for us. We're really playing our system.” After Erik Cole’s power-play goal 4:54 into the third brought Carolina within 3-2, Brendan Shanahan responded with an insurance tally at 7:28 and Lundqvist shut the door from there. New York stayed in a tie for sixth in the Eastern Conference with Boston.
“It’s good signs,” Shanahan said of his team’s recent play. “I’ve said all year that we’ve always responded when there was a big game. If we were guilty of anything this season it was not being focused for the so-called non-pivotal game or non-division game. That’s where we lost points this year and it’s something we definitely need to correct in the future. I like how we respond when we know it’s a big game.”
The Rangers came out strong, outshooting the Hurricanes 15-5 in the first period and getting goals from Brandon Dubinsky and Sean Avery. Dubinsky scored at 3:50 when he beat Cam Ward from the slot after taking Jaromir Jagr’s pass. Avery made it 2-0 with 44 seconds left in the period after Dan Girardi intercepted a weak pass in the Carolina zone and fed a wide-open Avery on the right wing for a slap shot that beat Ward to the far side.
Chris Drury’s 21st of the season 2:14 into the second extended the Rangers’ lead. Ward stopped a slap shot by Marc Staal, but Drury outbattled defenseman Frantisek Kaberle in front of the net and put the rebound past Ward.
"For whatever reason, it seemed like the puck was bouncing and it just wasn't clicking," Ward said. "It wasn't going our way, and because of that we got ourselves in a lot of trouble."
Cole started the Hurricanes back at 7:39 of the second with a shot that deflected off Girardi’s stick and past Lundqvist. Cole added his 17th in the third, but that was as close as Carolina got.
Hurricanes coach Peter Laviolette said the slow start cost his team the game.
"We did give it away in the first period," Laviolette said. "We weren't particularly sharp. They played a good defensive game. We talked about a lot of things that we need to do, but didn't seem to execute very well."
Oilers 5, Kings 4 | Video
Ales Hemsky assisted on a goal just 47 seconds into the game and scored twice during a four-goal second period as Edmonton rewarded the fans at Rexall Place with their sixth straight home victory.
Hemsky’s first goal erased a 2-1 deficit and his second — the fifth-year forward’s 17th of the season — gave the Oilers a lead they would not relinquish.
"I can't remember the last time we got five goals. It was like '80s night out there," said Oilers coach Craig MacTavish, who played on some of the Oilers’ Cup-winners in the late 1980s. "Chances at both ends, especially in the second period. It was whirlwind hockey — which is fine, if you come away on the right side of it."
The teams combined for six goals in a wild second period. Patrick O’Sullivan put the Kings ahead for the only time at 4:56 but Hemsky tied it at 8:02, starting an outburst of three goals in less than two minutes. Robert Nilsson gave the Oilers the lead at 9:03 only to see Dustin Brown score the equalizer at the 10-minute mark.
Hemsky made it 4-3 with 3:08 left with a long, seeing-eye shot that missed hitting four players on its way to the net. Fernando Pisani got what turned out to be the game-winner 1:08 later, converting a pass from Geoff Sanderson, who earned his 700th NHL point.
"There was a lot of open ice out there and it was fun to play in," Pisani said. "It was one of those games where you could see Hemsky just winding it up and watching him fly."
Brown’s shorthanded goal, his 28th goal of the season and second of the game, got Los Angeles within one midway through the third.
"If you look at the game it wasn't a matter of them making great plays it was a matter of us making poor plays," Brown said. "They were able to capitalize on a lot of the mistakes we made in the second period. When you make that many mistakes it's tough to win games."
Andrew Cogliano got the Oilers off to a fast start when Hemsky sprung him up ice with a pass and he put a wrist shot past Kings goalie Dan Cloutier. The Kings tied the score with six seconds left in the period on a goal by Anze Kopitar.
Coyotes 2, Blues 1 | Video
Phoenix received an outstanding effort from goalie Ilya Bryzgalov and another win in a road venue where the team has come to feel quite at home.
Bryzgalov made 41 saves, and Ed Jovanovski and Niko Kapanen scored 44 seconds apart late in the first period as the Coyotes beat the Blues for the fourth time this season and the sixth straight time at Scottrade Center. The win pulled Wayne Gretzky’s squad within a point of eighth in the Western Conference.
"It was a good victory for us," Gretzky said. "Obviously we're running out of games. For us to get a win tonight was a big win."
It was hard to imagine Bryzgalov being any better than he was last Sunday, when he blanked the Blues 2-0 in Phoenix with a 35-save effort. But the goalie the Coyotes claimed off waivers from Anaheim in November was may have been even better in the rematch, allowing only Ryan Johnson’s goal with 4:47 left in the first.
"Every game is important for us," Bryzgalov said. "We want to stay in the playoff race and you have to get points every game."
The Blues then took a pair of penalties, and each time the Coyotes’ power play made them pay, turning a one-goal deficit into a one-goal advantage. Jovanovski evened the score only 2:08 after Johnson’s goal, then Kapanen deflected Keith Yandle’s shot through the legs of Manny Legace for the decisive tally.
St. Louis outshot Phoenix 16-9 in the first, 14-8 in the second and 12-11 in the third.
"They came in hard," Bryzgalov said. "They shot lots of pucks from everywhere and were very physical."
"You only score one goal on 42 shots," Blues forward Lee Stempniak said. "You obviously had a good night."
Material from wire services and team broadcast and online media was used in this report.