BUFFALO, N.Y. – Dallas Stars coach Lindy Ruff had an opportunity to experience an entire range of emotions in his first trip back to Buffalo to face his former team.
Ruff went from holding back tears during a first-period tribute that culminated in a standing ovation, to feeling anxious after the Stars nearly squandered a three-goal lead. And finally he felt relief after Dallas hung on for a 4-3 victory over the Sabres on Monday night.
“It was kind of a huge relief,” Ruff said. “I was really glad once the tribute was over. I wanted to get the game over with. A lot of good memories here.”
Add another one to the list. The Sabres winningest coach came away a victor on the visitors’ bench after goalie Kari Lehtonen stopped the final 10 shots he faced to preserve the win.
Tyler Seguin capped a three-goal, first-period outburst, and Jamie Benn’s goal midway through the second period stood up as the winner in Ruff’s first game against his former team after his 16-year tenure in Buffalo ended with him being fired on Feb. 20.
“Well, we couldn’t just give it to him. We had to make sure he earned it,” Seguin said, with a smile referring to how close the Stars came to spoiling Ruff’s homecoming. “No, it was a good win. And we’re moving on now.”
Alex Goligoski and Vernon Fiddler also scored, and Erik Cole had two assists for the Stars (5-5-1), who snapped a four-game road losing streak. They also won for the first time in eight regular-season trips to Buffalo. Not including playoffs, Dallas had gone 0-5-2 at Buffalo since a 4-2 win on Oct. 7, 1997, which happened to be Ruff’s first home game as Sabres coach.
Matt Moulson scored twice his Sabres debut a day after being acquired in a trade that sent Thomas Vanek to the New York Islanders, and Buffalo (2-11-1) showed encouraging signs of progress despite matching its worst start to a season in franchise history.
“Tonight, there were some of probably the most positive signs I’ve seen in a long, long time,” said Steve Ott, who also scored for Buffalo. “Obviously, we’ve got to find the end result to the game. But that’s where we’re at. There’s no sugar-coating where we need to be, and our record indicates what it is.”
The Sabres dropped to 0-7-1 at home, their longest home winless skid to open a season. The eight-game home drought is also the team’s second-longest single-season skid, and four short of the franchise-low set in 1990-91.
Another slow start proved too much to overcome. Buffalo has now been outscored 19-2 in the first period this season after Seguin put the Stars ahead 3-1 with 2:08 left in the opening frame.
Benn’s goal 10:55 into the second period put the Stars up 4-1 and stood up as the game-winner. Seguin started the play by checking Ville Leino off the puck at the left circle. After a give-and-go with Cole, Seguin fed a pass through the crease to Benn who beat goalie Ryan Miller at the right post.
Ott scored a power-play goal 1:59 later, and Moulson cut the Stars lead to 4-3 with 2:43 left in the second period, when he converted a loose puck in front.
Aside from the victory, the highlight for Ruff was the warm welcome he received in Buffalo, where he still maintains a home.
Ruff, who was hired by Dallas in June, received a loud and lengthy standing ovation during the first break, when the Sabres showed highlights of him as a player and coach.
Ruff couldn’t resist in glancing up the board, at times smiling and at another point biting his lip. Several fans brought Ruff jerseys and hand-drawn signs, among which read, “We love you Lindy,” and “Welcome home.”
That was a distinct change for Ruff from the last time he was behind a bench in Buffalo. Ruff and the Sabres were booed off the ice following a 2-1 loss to Winnipeg on Feb. 19. Ruff hadn’t set foot into the arena since holding a farewell news conference three days later.
“The answer to that is yes, obviously,” Ruff said, referring to feeling a sense of closure. “I guess from the Buffalo side, it was great to see the emotion come back into the building as they started to come back. It turned out to be a darn good hockey game.”
NOTES: Ott took over as the Sabres full-time captain after splitting duties with Vanek, who served as captain during Sabres home games. … Before the game, Ruff joked he’s found numerous good restaurants in Dallas, but has yet to try any chicken wings. He cracked he’s given those up to stay in shape. … Moulson had a long day, noting he was up before 4:30 a.m. to catch his flight to Buffalo. Moulson and Vanek not only switched teams they traded jerseys, with both wearing No. 26.