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Third-period rally lifts Panthers past Stars

The SportsXchange

DALLAS -- A nine-year NHL veteran and a player making his league debut combined to rally the Florida Panthers for a season-opening win Thursday.

Florida scored three unanswered third-period goals, one by rookie Aleksander Barkov and two by Marcel Goc, to beat the Dallas Stars 4-2 at American Airlines Center, spoiling the debut of Lindy Ruff as Dallas' coach.

"It had a lot of aspects to it," Florida coach Kevin Dineen said of the win. "That was a hard-fought win. There was no gimme there. That was great stuff."

Goc's game-winning goal came after he and Tomas Fleischmann led the Florida rush. Goc laid the puck off to his teammate before Fleischmann tapped it back to him to the left of the Dallas goal. Goc flipped in a snap shot to make it 3-2 at 15:05 of the final period.

"Everyone chipped in tonight," Florida right wing Kris Versteeg said. "It was a great job by everyone, obviously. Showed a little bit of resiliency, first game in the season coming back, so it's exciting."

With 1:30 remaining, Goc added an empty-net goal.

"Everybody paid the price tonight, and that's why we ended up getting the results that we have," Panthers goaltender Tim Thomas said.

Ruff summed up Dallas' loss in fairly succinct terms while giving due credit to the Panthers for outplaying his club.

"We just didn't play well enough," Ruff said. "Any time you give up 39 shots, you're going to have trouble. We just didn't win enough battles. We went by too many battles tonight and stopped on pucks."

At 10:32 of the third, Barkov tied the game at 2. The 18-year-old knocked in a rebound for a goal in his NHL debut.

"(Barkov) had a big game," Versteeg said. "He ended up playing well. He played great for us tonight."

Dallas took a 2-1 lead at 7:32 of the third when Brenden Dillon scored a short-handed goal.

"We were just trying to hop it up the ice a little bit," Dillon said of his fourth career goal. "It was one of those scramble plays, and I was fortunate enough to get (the puck) right out front."

The Panthers scored the game's first goal with 2:19 left before the first intermission on a backhand by Scott Gomez. However, the story of the first period was the fight at 11:20 that saw four players drop the gloves. Dallas' Ryan Garbutt and Dmitry Kulikov each earned game misconducts for their roles in the scrum, while the Stars' Antoine Roussel earned 17 penalty minutes, including two minutes for instigating the confrontation. The Panthers' Mike Weaver earned a fighting major.

At 7:25 of the second, Dallas rookie Alex Chiasson scored on a wraparound to make it 1-1.

Both teams struggled on the power play, with Florida finishing 0-for-4 and Dallas going 0-for-3.

"We had five or six attempts, but all the shots were blocked," Ruff said. "Our composure on the power play wasn't good enough. In the preseason, we held onto the puck and didn't shoot it into people."

Stars goaltender Kari Lehtonen stopped 35 of 38 shots, while Thomas saved 25 of the 27 shots in his debut with his new team.

Lehtonen offered heady praise for Thomas, the 2011 Conn Smythe Trophy winner with the Stanley Cup-winning Boston Bruins who sat out last season.

"I know he's a great goalie," Lehtonen said. "He's been working hard. He made great saves. It's a little like Timmy from two of three years ago. It's good to see him back."

Dineen also couldn't help but give his starting netminder a great deal of the credit for the win.

"That was a big difference for us," Dineen said. "He was a guy that stood up, he made the saves when we needed him to, and that's what we're going to need."

Florida, which is opening the season with four consecutive road games, will next hit the ice Saturday at St. Louis. Dallas plays host to the Washington Capitals on Saturday.

"This was not the way we wanted it to go," Stars captain Jamie Benn said. "We'll watch some video and learn from it."

NOTES: Thomas made his first start since April 7, 2012, against Buffalo. The Sabres were then led by Ruff. ... Stars RW Valeri Nichushkin, the 10th overall pick in the 2013 draft, made his NHL debut. ... Gomez's goal was the 172nd of his career and his first since March 9, a span of 22 games. ... Chiasson's goal was the Dallas rookie's seventh of his short career. ... The game drew a crowd of 16,110.
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