The Dallas Stars got head coach Lindy Ruff a win in his return to Buffalo Monday night, but it was an adventure. The Stars built a 4-1 lead by the midway point of the game, but the Sabres made a contest of it, forcing the Stars to hang on for a 4-3 victory.
“It’s a huge relief. I said it felt strange coming back. We came out really good, we made a couple mistakes and they clawed their way back,” said Ruff. “It turned out to be a darn good hockey game.”
But the Stars were able to shut the door in the third period and give Ruff a victory in his return to the place where he coached for 15 seasons.
“Everyone in here, even though we weren’t talking about it too much, we all knew what tonight meant to our coach,” said Stars center Tyler Seguin. “He’s always there for us, trying to make us better players and a better team, so we definitely wanted to pull a win out for him tonight.”
The Sabres honored Ruff with a tribute video in the first period, and that drew a rousing ovation from Buffalo fans.
“It was awesome,” Ruff said. “I’ve always said the fans of Western New York and this area have been tremendous. I watched for a little while, but I thought I might get emotional. … It was first class by the organization. It was something they didn’t have to do, but did.”
The win snapped a four game road losing streak for the Stars, who have points in three straight games overall (2-0-1) and improved to 5-5-1 on the season.
“Coming into this game we had one road win, and that’s not acceptable,” said Seguin. “It’s still early in the season, these are big games and it’s nice to get back to .500, but we need to find some consistency in this locker room. Letting them get those two goals and coming back is not good enough. One of those was my fault, so it’s all about getting better.”
The Stars got a big night from their top line. Seguin had one goal and one assist, Jamie Benn scored one goal and Erik Cole chipped in two assists. Matt Moulson, acquired from the New York Islanders Sunday night, scored two goals in his first game for Buffalo, which fell to 2-11-1 on the season and 0-7-1 at home.
The two teams scored goals 27 seconds apart early in the first period. Vernon Fiddler grabbed the rebound of a Antoine Roussel shot and beat Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller from close range at the 2:59 mark.
The Sabres tied it off an odd-man rush at the 3:26 mark. Tyler Ennis set up Moulson, who beat Stars goaltender Kari Lehtonen with a shot from the slot.
The Stars went on a four minute power play after Sabres captain Steve Ott was given minors for slashing and unsportsmanlike conduct. The Stars scored on the second half of the double minor to take a 2-1 lead. After a couple keeps at the blue line by Jordie Benn, Alex Goligoski scored from the right circle at the 16:40 mark.
“I hold myself accountable for taking a bad penalty and costing us a goal tonight,” Ott said. “That’s simply not good enough, but for the rest of the boys, I thought our effort was really, really solid tonight.”
The Stars made it a 3-1 lead just 1:12 later. After a couple of close calls in the defensive end, the Stars got the puck in the Buffalo zone and Seguin took a short pass from Cole and scored from close range.
The Stars extended their lead to 4-1 at 10:55 of the second period. After Seguin forced a turnover in front of the Buffalo net, he and Cole set up Jamie Benn, who scored off a backhand from the top of the crease.
The Sabres went on their first power play of the night at the 11:36 mark of the second, and cashed into cut the Stars’ lead to 4-2. After Dallas turned over the puck in their own end, Mikhail Grigorenko set up Ott, who whipped the puck past Lehtonen from ten feet away.
The Sabres made it a 4-3 game at 17:17 of the second when Moulson scored off the rebound of a Christian Ehrhoff shot from the point.
“We kind of let them come back to the game,” said Lehtonen. “I think we were dominating the first 30 minutes pretty well, but it’s the NHL. Every team is pretty good. They made a couple plays, we had a couple turnovers. They got close, but I think we did well in the third to close it out.”
The Sabres had a couple power play chances in the third period. Lehtonen made a couple of sharp saves on the first one, and Buffalo was able to generate nothing on the second one. The Sabres pulled Miller for the extra attacker with about 90 seconds remaining, but couldn’t get the equalizer.
“It was a good effort in the third for having such a poor effort the last ten minutes of the second,” said Cole. “It was a good response, and two points that we’ll take.”
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on DallasStars.com reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.