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Stars win in Ruff's return to Buffalo

by Joe Yerdon /

BUFFALO – The Dallas Stars made coach Lindy Ruff's return to Buffalo a successful one.

Jamie Benn's fourth goal of the season at 10:55 of the second period proved to be the difference in the Stars' 4-3 victory at First Niagara Center on Monday night.

It was a happy homecoming for Ruff, who returned to Buffalo for the first time since being fired by the Sabres last season. Ruff coached Buffalo for nearly 15 seasons.

"It's kind of a huge relief," Ruff said. "I said it felt really strange coming back and I thought we came out really good. We made a couple mistakes and they clawed their way back."

During the first break in the game in the first period, the Sabres paid tribute to Ruff showing a video on the overhead scoreboard, honoring his career in Buffalo.

"It was awesome," Ruff said. "I've spent my whole life here. Really a visiting coach comes in, and I know I've been here a long time, but to do something like that by the organization was second to none. You know, I have a lot of respect for the years I had here.

"You know, I've said the hockey is one thing, the way the community has supported myself and my family has been second to none. The fans have been terrific and I was really glad once the tribute was over and I really wanted to get the game over after that. [There's] a lot of good memories there."

Sabres players were happy to see their former coach recognized as well.

"Lindy's connection is far beyond hockey," Sabres goalie Ryan Miller said. "I'm glad we took a moment. He definitely deserved it."

Vernon Fiddler would start the scoring for Dallas 2:59 into the first period, when he was left alone near the net to deke and beat Miller.

The lead would last 27 seconds. Matt Moulson scored his first of two goals as a member of the Sabres at 3:26 with a one-timer from the slot in just his second shift of the game.

Moulson was acquired from the New York Islanders, along with a first-round pick at the 2014 NHL Draft and a second-round selection in 2015, on Sunday in exchange for left wing Thomas Vanek.

"I'm not going to lie, that was probably the most nervous I've been for a game since my first game in the NHL," Moulson said. "I had a bit of butterflies in the stomach. It kind of settled me down there. Cody [Hodgson] and Enzo [Tyler Ennis] played great tonight."

The Stars would take the lead for good at 16:40 of the first, when Alex Goligoski scored a power-play goal during a double-minor penalty to Sabres captain Steve Ott.

"I hold myself accountable for taking a bad penalty and costing us a goal tonight," Ott said. "It's simply not good enough."

Tyler Seguin made it 3-1 1:12 later with his fifth goal of the season. Seguin's line with Benn and Erik Cole was a new combination for the Stars.

"Benn, Cole, and I played together in the preseason and we know each other's games a lot better now," Seguin said. "We could've put together a better three periods in total effort out there. It was a good move by Lindy, once again, sparking our line a little bit after the last few games and it worked."

Ott helped make up for his mistake with a power-play goal off a pass from Mikhail Grigorenko 1:59 after Seguin's goal to make it 4-2.

Then at 17:17 of the second period, Moulson added his second of the night while tumbling to the ice to bring the Sabres to within 4-3, but they wouldn't get another one past Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen, who made 22 saves to earn the win. He withstood a flurry of chances in the final minute to preserve the win.

"I don't think anybody's ever calm when there's a minute left and you're up by one goal and they're coming at you," Lehtonen said. "Those last maybe four shots I was able to see them. They weren't able to get the traffic in front of me on those shots so I think that made it a little bit easier. It's always a little nerve racking when you're up but in the end it feels good to help the team win."

Miller stopped 25 shots in the loss. It was the Sabres' second loss in a row and fifth in their past six games.

"I thought our effort was really, really solid tonight," Ott said. "You work hard like that most nights, you're going to get ways to wins games. We've got to stick with this process. … Tonight there was probably the most positive signs I've seen in a long, long time."

The Sabres (2-11-1) will hit the road to face the New York Rangers on Thursday night. The Stars (5-5-1) conclude their two-game road trip in Montreal on Tuesday.

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