BUFFALO, N.Y. — After an abrupt end to his lengthy tenure with the Sabres in February, coach Lindy Ruff got some closure in his return to Buffalo.
He also got a win.
Ruff’s Dallas Stars skated to a 4-3 victory over his former team Monday night, and the long-time Sabres coach was greeted with cheers and applause at the First Niagara Center.
“You know, it’s kind of a huge relief,” Ruff said. “It obviously felt really strange coming back.”
Dallas (5-5-1) jumped out to a 4-1 lead behind goals from Vernon Fiddler, Alex Goligoski, Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn.
Buffalo (2-11-1) responded with two unanswered goals and a late flurry in the game’s final minutes but was unable to tie the game. Kari Lehtonen made 22 saves for Dallas, including several late stops.
Matt Moulson, playing in his first game with the Sabres after being acquired from the New York Islanders in a trade late Sunday night, scored twice. Steve Ott also scored for Buffalo. Ryan Miller had 25 saves.
Much of the focus was understandably on Ruff. It was Ruff’s first game in Buffalo since
being fired as the Sabres’ coach in February. Ruff, who also played 10 years in Buffalo, spent 16 years as behind the Sabres’ bench and is the winningest coach in franchise history with a 571-432-162 record.
The Sabres showed a video tribute to Ruff during a break in play in the first period, and the coach received a lengthy standing ovation from the Buffalo crowd.
“It was awesome,” Ruff said. “That was, by the organization, second to none. I have a lot of respect for the years I had here, and I said the hockey’s one thing, the way the community has supported myself and my family has been second to none and the fans have been terrific. And I was really glad once the tribute was over and I wanted the game over after that because (I have) a lot of good memories there.”
Said Miller: “Lindy’s connection is far beyond hockey. I’m glad we took a moment. He definitely deserved it.”
The Stars didn’t need to discuss the importance of Ruff’s return to Buffalo — they already knew.
“Everyone in here, even though we weren’t talking about it too much, we all knew what tonight meant to our coach,” Seguin said. “He’s always there for us and trying to make us better players and a better team, so we definitely wanted to pull out a win for him.”
Fiddler opened up the scoring for Dallas with a wide-open opportunity in front of the Buffalo net 2:59 into the game.
Moulson quickly answered for Buffalo on his second shift as a Sabre. The left winger ripped a shot past Lehtonen 27 seconds after Fiddler’s goal. The Sabres sent Thomas Vanek to the Islanders in exchange for Moulson and first- and second-round picks.
“My wife always says I play my best games when I’m tired,” said Moulson, who joined the Sabres early Monday morning. “So I’m going to have to stay up until 2 in the morning every day, I guess.”
Dallas took control later in the opening period. With Ott in the penalty box serving a double minor for slashing and unsportsmanlike conduct, Goligoski put a wrist shot past Miller from inside the right circle at 16:40. Just over one minute later, the Stars took advantage of a Tyler Myers giveaway when Seguin put the puck through Miller’s legs to increase the lead to 3-1.
Benn, Dallas’ captain, made it 4-1 at 10:55 of the second period. Benn finished a cross-ice passing play with a backhand to the top of the net.
Things got a bit dicey for the Stars after that as the Sabres mounted their comeback.
Ott scored a rare power play-goal for the Sabres two minutes later to cut Dallas’ lead to 4-2. Ott took advantage of a fine pass from youngster Mikhail Grigorenko on the play, which was Grigorenko’s first point since March 3.
Moulson cut Dallas’ lead to one with 2:43 left in the second on his second goal of the game and eighth of the season.
“They got a little bit sloppy and (Buffalo) took advantage of a couple of our mistakes,” Ruff said. “We’ve had a little bit of a tough time on the road, and that’s one area of our team that has to improve.”
Lehtonen, who recently returned from a lower-body injury, made several big stops late, including a glove save on Buffalo’s Christian Ehrhoff with 43 seconds remaining.
“I think we kind of let them come back to the game,” Lehtonen said. “I think we were dominating the first 30 minutes pretty well … but it’s the NHL. Every team’s pretty good. They make a couple plays and we had a couple turnovers and they got close, but I think we did well in the third period to close it out.”