NEW YORK – Sean Avery hurried out of Madison Square Garden nearly as quickly as he left the New York Rangers as a free agent.
“I love you guys,” Avery said to a large throng of reporters in the tight visitors dressing room, “but I have to go take my teammates out to dinner.”
Avery made his presence felt upon his return to Manhattan after 1 1/2 seasons of being the resident Rangers pest. He didn’t show up on the scoresheet Monday, but he walked out into the New York nightlife he relishes after he and the Dallas Stars skated off with a 2-1 victory.
“It was good motivation for us all,” Stars captain Brenden Morrow said of the impending victory meal. “He’s making friends.”
Mike Modano’s third-period goal snapped a tie and lifted the slumping Stars to a much-needed win.
Avery, who signed a four-year deal with Dallas, heard boos from the crowd that mostly adored him during his time with the Rangers, cheers when he was levelled twice in the third period, and mocking singsong chants of his name when he picked himself off the ice following a hit by Dan Girardi.
“I was enjoying the boos as much as the cheers,” Avery said. “That’s what is great about this place.”
Modano made it perfect for the Stars, who had allowed an NHL-high 23 goals in starting 1-3-1.
“When you’re giving up five a game, there’s obviously an onus put on defence right now,” coach Dave Tippett said. “It certainly shows we have the capability.”
Girardi’s clearing attempt in front of goalie Henrik Lundqvist went right to Modano in the left circle. He snapped in a shot 8:03 into the third for his third goal.
“It was a lucky bounce,” the 38-year-old Modano said of his 531st goal and 87th game-winner. “Those don’t get old. It still gives you the idea that you can still hang around the players and play the game. I’ll stick around a little longer maybe.”
The Stars tied it 1-1 in the second on Morrow’s power-play goal. Marty Turco made 28 saves.
Markus Naslund had given New York a 1-0 lead in the first during a man advantage. Lundqvist stopped 25 shots but appeared to fight the puck all night.
New York is 1-2-1 since jumping out to a 5-0 start. The Rangers, who played for the seventh time in 11 days, have scored one goal or fewer in three of four games – including a 1-0 shootout win over Toronto on Friday.
They don’t play again until Friday at Columbus.
“It would have been nice to get the two points,” forward Scott Gomez said. “We will take the rest. We will work hard, reload.
“We have to adjust a little bit, but we had our chances.”
The Rangers were helped when the Stars showed a lack of discipline in the opening minute, and the agitating Avery had nothing to do with it.
Just 25 seconds after the initial faceoff, Loui Eriksson went off for tripping. The stoppage brought a bit of excitement as Avery yapped at Lundqvist before Brandon Dubinsky, who occupied the stall next to Avery at practice last season, stepped in to defend the goalie.
Avery and Dubinsky appeared to jaw at each other during the pre-game warmup, when Avery also yelled in the direction of Lundqvist and backup goalie Steve Valiquette.
After the game, Avery called Valiquette a “minor leaguer.”
“He came here on a business trip basically and he played hockey,” Rangers coach Tom Renney said. “Their team won the hockey game and that translates to a successful combination.”
The Rangers made the most of their first power-play chance just 33 seconds into the advantage. Michal Rozsival sent a drive hard off the end boards behind Turco, and the rebound came right to Naslund at the right post for an easy goal at 58 seconds.
Naslund, the Rangers’ top forward pickup in the summer to replace Jaromir Jagr, scored his second goal and first since New York’s opening game of the season in the Czech Republic.
The next stoppage of play didn’t occur until 8:17 later in a fast-moving period that featured 17 shots, nine by Dallas.
A crescendo of boos toward Avery got louder each time he touched the puck in the final two minutes of the first.
Dallas got even on its first power play. The Stars put the pressure on and nearly scored when Modano struck Lundqvist on the mask with a shot he didn’t see.
The Stars gathered the puck again, and Morrow scored his second of the season off a rebound of a shot by rookie sensation Fabian Brunnstrom. Morrow swiped the puck in while down on his left side 5:28 into the second period.
“None of them are pretty but that was probably one of the ugliest I’ve ever scored,” Morrow said.
Brunnstrom burst into the spotlight last week when he became the third NHL player to score three goals in his league debut. The 23-year-old Swede has four goals and five points in four games.
Notes: Henrik Lundqvist faced twin brother Joel, a Dallas centre, for the third time in the NHL. Their older sister, Gabriella, was in attendance. … The Rangers were 50-20-16 with Avery in the lineup and 9-13-2 when he didn’t play. … Naslund had four goals in four games against Dallas last season while with Vancouver. … Modano has six points in six games.