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Stars hand Wild first regulation loss

by John Kreiser
Three days of working on their defensive play — and a goaltending change — paid off for the Dallas Stars.

Swiss rookie Tobias Stephen made 19 saves to earn his first NHL victory as the Stars beat Minnesota 4-2 on Wednesday night, handing the Wild their first regulation loss. He benefitted from an improved teamwide defensive effort.

Minnesota was 6-0-1 through seven games, had allowed only 14 goals and had not allowed a power-play goal. But the Wild was coming to a building in which they've struggled — Dallas has now beaten them nine straight times at the American Airlines Center.

"They played a solid game," Wild coach Jacques Lemaire said. "They deserved it. They played a lot better than we did."

Coach Dave Tippett ripped his players and starting goaltender Marty Turco after Saturday's 6-5 overtime loss to Washington left them last in the NHL in goals allowed. After three days of intense work on playing in their own zone, Tippett also opted to give the 24-year-old Stephan only his second NHL start.

He was pleased with the results.

"We worked hard on defensive zone stuff," Tippett said. "From the goalie to the defense to the forwards, we won a lot of 1-on-1 battles. We had to check better and play better without the puck."

A fast start didn't hurt, either.

Brenden Morrow gave the Stars a 1-0 lead just 13 seconds into the game when he scored from the right circle after goalie Niklas Backstrom mishandled the puck behind the net.

"I thought that first shift set a pretty good tone for us," Tippett said.

Marc-Andre Bergeron's power-play goal tied it at 6:13, but the rest of the period belonged to the Stars. Steve Ott, returning after missing three games with a groin injury, jammed the puck past Backstrom at 12:45 and Brad Richards got his first of the season at 15:39.

"It was great to be back out there," said Ott, one of the NHL's best pests. "I'm not going to score many goals from outside the crease, so (I was) just hacking and whacking and somehow it got over the line."

The big first period made life a lot easier for the Stars and their rookie goaltender.

"It was important to get a good start, especially against that team," Richards said. "Getting a lead is a lot easier to play against them. 3-1 in the first period was big. That's a hard team to play against as it is, but if they get a lead, it gets really tough. That’s the way to play them, get a two-goal lead, because it brings them out of character a little bit."

Backstrom, who had played every minute of the Wild's season, was replaced after the first period by Josh Harding, who allowed Matt Niskanen's power-play goal midway through the second period — the first surrendered by the Wild after killing 24 consecutive penalties.

Andrew Brunette got credit for a third-period goal that went in off the back of Dallas defenseman Mark Fistric's leg, but the Stars kept Minnesota from exerting much pressure on Stephan the rest of the way.

"The guys played great," the rookie goaltender said. "They made it quite easy for me."

Tippett said his young goaltender "made the saves he was supposed to. He gave us good goaltending. We were able to build a lead and hold it.

"He’s got the first win under his belt. He had zero wins in the NHL. So he has to build that confidence in himself and from his teammates."

Brunette said the Stars "worked hard, and we didn't react with the speed we needed to beat them."

For Tippett, the key is being able to put together a string of solid defensive performances.

"There are some things to grab onto and it was one of our better games from our defensemen," he said. "Now we have to keep building on this."

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