DALLAS – Mike Modano was able to kept his emotions in check. Beating his former team was a tougher assignment.
The top line of Brad Richards, Loui Eriksson and James Neal had goals, Kari Lehtonen made 25 saves and Dallas beat the Detroit Red Wings 4-1 on Thursday night in Stars career scoring leader Modano’s first game in Texas as a visiting player.
“There was just a world of emotions and memories,” said Modano, who had two of his shots blocked and another that missed the net. “A lot of special things have gone on here. I was involved in the game from the ground floor, and helping to promote the game of hockey here in Texas. It was fun to play here.”
Brenden Morrow added his fourth goal in three games, and Richards and Mike Ribeiro had two assists each for the Stars (3-0) in their home opener.
But Modano’s much-anticipated return was as big a story for Stars fans as the performance by Dallas’ No. 1 line.
In 20 seasons as the face of the Stars/North Stars franchise, Modano had 557 goals and 1,359 points, most by a U.S.-born player in NHL history.
The 40-year-old Modano was a free agent over the summer and, when the Stars didn’t offer him a contract, he signed a one-year deal Aug. 5 with the Red Wings, his hometown team.
Modano had never even been inside the visiting locker room during his 16 seasons in Dallas, but he knew where to find it.
Modano is wearing No. 90, not his familiar No. 9 with the Stars. In Detroit, No. 9 will always be Gordie Howe, whose number was retired on March 12, 1972.
“It was strange … 20 years in Dallas and then in that uniform, it’s a little different to see him in the red and white,” Morrow said. “But you try not to think about it after a shift or two, concentrate on what you need to do.”
Detroit coach Mike Babcock opened with his third line centred by Modano, who was cheered when he was announced with the starters.
During a first-period stoppage in play, Modano was shown on the video board with the caption “Thank you, Mike.” He received another loud ovation and raised an arm in acknowledgment.
“It was really nice,” Modano said. “It was great to be back, great to see familiar faces. Now we can move on and get into the season. I’m glad we got to it early in the season.”
Neither Modano nor his teammates were able to generate many prime scoring chances against Lehtonen.
Dallas was unable to string together three victories all of last season.
Richards’ line has six goals and eight assists in three games.
“It’s very important at the start of the season to gain some momentum,” Richards said. “We’re fortunate we have the same guys (on his line) from last year, nothing’s changed. We’re a year older and more experienced. We’ve talked about it. We’re good friends and we talk a lot about the game.”
Niklas Kronwall’s power-play goal at 11:25 of the third period ended Lehtonen’s bid for his 15th career shutout.
The Stars scored on four of their first nine shots against a struggling Chris Osgood, who made 11 saves for Detroit (2-1-1).
Dallas was on the power play 28 seconds after the opening faceoff when Brad Stuart was penalized for boarding, and Richards’ shot from just inside the blue-line eluded a screened Osgood at :41.
Eriksson went hard to the net and converted Neal’s pass from behind the net to make it 2-0 at :44 of the second period.
Morrow extended the lead to 3-0 at 7:03 of the second, and Neal gave Dallas a four-goal cushion when he backhanded a shot past Osgood at 16:26 of the same period.
The Stars extended their home winning streak to six games over the Red Wings.
Detroit’s Johan Franzen left in the first period with a head injury and did not return.
Franzen was down on the ice with 8:29 left in the opening period from a hit by Dallas defenceman Mark Fistric and had to be helped to the bench.
After the game, Franzen called the injury a concussion, but Babcock said, “I wouldn’t use that word.”
“It’s not too bad,” Franzen said. “I feel OK right now.”
NOTES: Dallas was without C Jamie Benn (concussion symptoms). … D Brian Rafalski (knee), F Kris Draper (groin), F Justin Abdelkader (ribs) and D Jonathan Ericsson (back) are out for Detroit. … Neal was in the penalty box for two different minors in the final five minutes of the first period, but the Red Wings couldn’t capitalize.