DALLAS - What a debut! It was a magical night for Fabian Brunnstrom, one he’ll certainly never forget.
Making his NHL debut, the Swedish rookie scored three goals to help the Dallas Stars earn their first victory of the season, defeating the Nashville Predators 6-4 Wednesday night at the American Airlines Center.
Brunnstrom, who was a healthy scratch the first two games of the season, became just the third player in NHL history to register a hat trick in his first game, joining Alex Smart (Montreal, 1943) and Real Cloutier (Quebec, 1979).
The 23-year-old, who signed as a free agent with Dallas last May after a league-wide bidding war for his services, also notched the game-winner with 3:25 remaining, snapping a 4-4 tie and leaving Dallas 1-1-1 on the young season.
It was the second contest in four days between the two clubs, with the Predators triumphing 3-1 in Nashville on Saturday.
In an odd coincidence, two Nashville players (Patric Hornqvist and Ryan Jones) also scored their first NHL goals in the game, but it was Brunnstrom that had the biggest impact on the game.
“It made it that much better to win the game,” said Brunnstrom, who skated on a line with Brad Richards and Sean Avery. “I had some really nice passes and I just tried to be in front of the net. This has been my goal since I was little, to play in the NHL, and this is just a dream come true.”
“The process is going well. He played a solid game,” Stars coach Dave Tippett said. “The goals are easy to see, but I was very impressed with the way that he played a pretty simple, error-free game, did what he was supposed to do and he capitalized on some chances. It’s a great start for him. Again, it’s not just the goals, it’s the other things that he’s doing out there that make you feel good about where he’s come from. He’s a good player and he’s going to continue to improve.”
Veteran Mike Modano also scored two goals and an assist in the contest, skating on a line with rookies James Neal and B.J. Crombeen.
“Those young guys rub off on me,” said Modano, whose empty netter from his own zone with 3.3 seconds remaining iced the game. “James and B.J. had great games. Sometimes youth can energize us old guys. They’re great guys, too, they have great respect for the game and the organization.”
Defenseman Stephane Robidas also scored while Richards added two assists, both on Brunnstrom goals. Marty Turco made 15 saves in goal for his 208th career victory.
With Dallas holding onto a 4-3 lead in the third period, the Predators scored a disputed goal with 9:01 remaining to tie it. After a mad scramble for a loose puck in front, Turco was lying on his side along the goal line as Martin Erat shot from the left side of the crease into his mid-section. The red light came on and after a video review could not seem to determine whether or not the puck crossed the line, it was deemed a good goal.
“It could have been a discouraging one, especially when it goes to replay and then it comes back,” Tippett said of the play. “Usually I get a pretty good read from upstairs, whether it’s a goal or not and our guys thought it was inconclusive, so you’re kind of hanging on the edge. Obviously, it went the other way and that’s how it goes some nights. Our guys did a good job of coming back after that, digging in and say, ‘Let’s find a way to win,’ and they did.”
Richards set up the winner with 3:25 remaining, with a slick backhand pass from behind the net to Brunnstrom at the left side of the crease, where he popped an in-close shot over Nashville goaltender Dan Ellis’ shoulder.
He actually almost had a fourth with 1:43 left, but it was waved off because the official’s whistle had blown moments before he poked a loose rebound underneath Ellis and into the net.
The Stars started the contest with considerable offensive pressure and thought they’d opened the scoring at 6:56, but instead of a 1-0 lead, they ended up short-handed.
As defenseman Philippe Boucher’s slap shot from the blue line sailed just wide of the left goalpost, Nashville blueliner Dan Hamhuis appeared to shove Morrow into Ellis. With Ellis out of position, the puck bounced off the endboards, over the goal and out front, where Loui Eriksson backhanded it into the open net. Unfortunately, the officials waved off the goal and whistled Morrow for goaltender interference.
“It’s one of those ones where he was pushed over beside the goalie and the puck comes back out the other way,” Tippett said of Morrow. “So in actual fact, if you look at it, Brenden’s got position, so the goalie runs into him. I know if that was the other way, we’d probably be crying foul, but it probably would be called 50 percent one way and 50 percent the other way. I’m glad we battled through it.”
After failing to convert on their first two power plays, the Stars needed just 3.5 seconds to capitalize on opportunity number three. When Hornqvist was sent to the box to feel shame with just 12.9 seconds remaining in the first period for an infraction in the Dallas zone, a somewhat subtle NHL rule change this season helped the Stars.
It used to be that the face-off following a penalty would be at the dot nearest the infraction, but this year, the league has deemed that the face-off would always be in the offensive zone. So Ribeiro won the subsequent draw, pushing the puck back to Modano at the right point, who volleyed it over to Robidas for a blast that appeared to get nicked by the Predators forward trying to block it, sending it over Ellis’ shoulder for a 1-0 lead with just 9.4 seconds on the clock.
Dallas maintained the momentum after the intermission and took a 2-0 lead just 29 seconds into the second period on Modano’s first goal of the season and 529th of his career. Crombeen fed a nice pass from the right sideboards to a charging Modano in front, and Mo made a nice deflection past Ellis just inside the far post.
The Predators got that one back at 3:56 of the second on a power play, capitalizing on one of three Brenden Morrow penalties in the game, when Radek Bonk jammed a loose puck past Turco on a power play.
The Predators tied it at 9:04 Hornqvist’s first NHL goal, as the Swedish rookie, skating in his fourth NHL contest, executed a nice deflection from the high slot on Shea Weber’s slap shot from just inside the blue line, which beat Turco between the pads.
Brunnstrom’s first goal gave Dallas the lead again at 11:45 of the second, beating Ellis with a quick snap shot from in front after taking a nice pass from the right face-off circle by Toby Petersen.
The Predators tied it again 2:05 later on Jones’ first NHL goal (in his second game), as he swatted a loose puck in front through Turco’s pads after a scramble at the side of the net.
But Brunnstrom put Dallas on top again just 23 seconds after that, drilling a one-timer from low in the right face-off circle, after Richards fed him a nice cross-ice pass, that just eluded the glove of a diving Ellis.
“Obviouisly, Fabian had a big game,” understated Richards, who knows a thing or two about impressive debuts, after he collected a franchise-record five assists in his first game in a Dallas uniform last Feb. 28. “We wish he could have a hat trick every night, but he was in the right place at the right time. We’re very proud of him and very excited for him. It was a big step for him.”
Once again, the Stars will immediately fly out of Dallas in order to face off against St. Louis Thursday night (7:30 pm start, FSN) for their second set of back-to-back games in different cities this season.
Brunnstrom knows things won’t go quite this well every game, but he’s determined to keep working.
“It’s going to be tough to live up to this every night,” he said. “I have to keep going to the net and working hard and doing everything I can to help this team win.”
- Brunnstrom is now the fifth Star to score in his NHL debut, after Neal became the fourth in Friday’s season opener against Columbus. The other three were Loui Eriksson, Mike Kennedy and Jarkko Varvio. The last player in franchise history to score more than once in his first NHL game was Dave Archibald for the Minnesota North Stars, who netted two on Oct. 10, 1987.
- Brunnstrom and Richards tied for the club lead with five shots on goal.
- Joel Lundqvist delivered a game-high eight hits.
- Avery’s assist on Brunnstrom’s second goal was his first of the season and first as a Star.
- The Stars’ power play unit was 1-for-6, making them 2-for-18 on the season overall.
- Former Dallas netminder Ellis, who was the Stars’ second-round draft choice (60th overall) in the 2000 Entry Draft, entered the contest sporting a stellar 3-1-0 mark with a 1.64 goals-against average against the Stars since he left the Dallas organization as a free agent and signed with Nashville last year.
- With the win, the Stars are now 15-4-0 all-time in Dallas against Nashville, including 8-2-0 in the last 10 meetings between the clubs here.