DALLAS -- A great pass from new teammate Jaromir Jagr with 6:55 left in the third period allowed Dallas Stars winger Loui Eriksson to drain an 18-foot wrister from the slot, the game-winner as the Stars defeated the Phoenix Coyotes, 4-3, Saturday night before a sellout crowd of 18,532 at American Airlines Center.
Jagr made his Dallas debut memorable, scoring his first goal for the Stars at 18:36 of the opening period. After a nice feed from Eriksson, Jagr dashed up the ice and slipped a wrister under the left pad of goaltender Mike Smith for a 1-0 lead. Jagr added a second goal late in the second period.
"Well, he’s a heck of a player," Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said of Jagr. "You give him some opportunities like that he’s going to capitalize. We gave him a couple of real quality ones and he found the back of the net."
Radim Vrbata had two goals and an assist for Phoenix, which lost its season opener for just the second time in the past seven seasons. Dallas won its opener for a third straight year.
Stars goaltender Kari Lehtonen stopped 37 of 40 shots; Smith denied 22 of 26.
The Coyotes' David Moss drew a pair of penalties in the second period to put his club on the power play twice. Moss first drew a double-minor high sticking on Philip Larsen at 4:05, but the Stars' penalty kill was up to the challenge.
Dallas wasn’t quite so lucky on the second Coyotes power play, which came after rookie defenseman Brenden Dillon was whistled for a cross check on Moss at 8:23. At 41 seconds into the power play, Lauri Korpikoski made it a tie game, knocking home a 15-foot wrister after a solid cross-ice pass from Vrbata at 9:04.
Phoenix made the Stars pay again at 11:53, 48 seconds after Dallas captain Brenden Morrow was sent off for a high stick on Korpikoski. This time it was Vrbata finishing for the visitors, redirecting a shot by Keith Yandle about 10 feet from the goal to give the Coyotes their first lead at 2-1.
Jagr revved up the home crowd again with his goal at 18:38 of the second, putting a wrister from Smith’s left to make it 2-2. Dallas had gone on the power play at 16:47 when Reilly Smith drew a holding penalty on Vrbata.
"Well, it was special," Jagr said of making his Stars debut. "Always the first game is special. It was strange. We had only one week in training camp. Practice and games are kind of different. Hopefully it’s going to get better and better."
Dallas regained the lead at 3-2 31 seconds into the third period when Ray Whitney, another of the Stars' offseason additions, beat Smith with a wrister from the right face-off circle with Dallas on the power play. Assisting were Jagr and Stephane Robidas, his second helper of the night.
Whitney's goal made Dallas 2-for-4 with the man advantage, the Stars' latest opportunity coming after Phoenix center Boyd Gordon was called for slashing at 19:37 of the second. Last season, the Stars had the NHL's lowest-ranked power play, converting at a rate of 13.5 percent.
"They [Jagr and Whitney] did a really good job there [on the power play]," Stars coach Glen Gulutzan said. "They read off each other. You’ve got two brilliant minds there. They’re chattering all the time, so there’s some chemistry going on already with those two. When you’ve got players of that caliber with that chemistry who can read off each other, you’re in good shape."
Vrbata made it a 3-3 game with his second at 3:30 of the third. The Phoenix wing found himself on a breakaway after Stars defenseman Jordie Benn lost the puck in his own end, and Vrbata quickly beat Lehtonen with a wrister for the equalizer.
The teams return to the ice Sunday: Phoenix plays host to the Chicago Blackhawks, and Dallas travels to play the Minnesota Wild.
And even though the Coyotes return home fresh off a loss, their mistakes against the Stars are things they know are definitely correctable.
"Well, it was the first game," Vrbata said. "Everybody knew the first couple games there would be mistakes made. Those were mistakes that we don’t usually make as a team. Hopefully we will learn from that."
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