Prior to tonight, the last time the Stars won a game in Buffalo was June 19, 1999, that fateful night Brett Hull scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal.
Tonight, the Stars ended that drought, defeating the Buffalo Sabres 4-3 in Coach Lindy Ruff's return to Buffalo.
To say it has been a while since the Stars' last win in Buffalo is putting it lightly. They had not won a regular season game in Buffalo since October 7, 1997, which ironically was Lindy Ruff's first home game as the Sabres' head coach.
Ruff's return to Buffalo was one narrative for tonight's game. It was the only narrative, until last night, when the Sabres traded home captain Thomas Vanek to the New York Islanders in exchange for noted Stars killer Matt Moulson, a 2014 first round pick and a 2015 second round pick. Then, the stories became "How would Matt Moulson do without John Tavares?" and "Can the Stars finally end their 16-year regular season drought in Buffalo?"
Those stories collided, and generated an unexpectedly interesting game.
Leading off the scoring was Vernon Fiddler, who picked up the rebound off an Antoine Roussel shot and skated in practically unopposed on Ryan Miller and shoved it in far side past Miller's right pad. The Stars led 1-0 2:59 into the game.
Twenty-seven seconds later, the Sabres got a 4-on-2, and Matt Moulson, in his first game as a Sabre, one-timed a shot past Kari Lehtonen from the slot, tying the game at one apiece.
With 6:12 left in the first period, officials handed Sabres captain Steve Ott a very questionable double minor penalty. The Stars failed to score on the first minor, but they converted on the second one. Jordie Benn kept in a clearing attempt and fed Valeri Nichushkin the puck, who quickly redirected the pass back to the point to Alex Goligoski, and he fired it past Miller from the right faceoff dot. The Stars took the lead 2-1 with 3:20 left in the first.
Just over a minute later, the Stars struck again. Trevor Daley rammed into Tyler Myers near the left wing half wall, knocking the puck loose. Erik Cole corralled the loose puck, fed it to Tyler Seguin in the slot, and Seguin beat Miller five-hole. The Stars carried a 3-1 lead into the first intermission.
The Stars came out flying in the second period, getting a very early power play chance in the second period. The power play generated seven shots on goal, but none of them found the back of the net. Overall, the Stars attempted 11 shots on that power play. If the Stars want to have continued success this season, the power play has to work like that.
In spite of failing to score on the early power play chance, the Stars kept pressuring the Sabres in their own zone. At 10:55 of the second period the Stars finally capitalized on their effort. After Tyler Seguin knocked Ville Leino off the puck in the slot, Erik Cole fed the loose puck back to Seguin, who fired a cross-ice pass to Jamie Benn, who scored on a backhand from a severe angle, giving the Stars a 4-1 lead.
And that is when the game got more interesting than it perhaps should have.
Cody Eakin took a tripping penalty less than a minute after Benn's goal, and the Sabres made the Stars pay. After the Sabres dumped it in, the Stars failed to clear it out of their own zone when Vernon Fiddler coughed up the puck near the left wing half wall. Mikhail Grigorenko fed the loose puck to a wide-open Steve Ott, who snapped it home from the doorstep past Lehtonen with 7:06 left in the second period.
Four-and-a-half minutes later, with the Stars were scrambling in their own zone, Christian Ehrhoff fired a slap shot that Tyler Seguin blocked, but Matt Moulson found the loose puck and fired a backhand past Lehtonen as he was falling down. Suddenly, a comfortable 4-1 lead was a tense 4-3 lead, and there was one period left to play.
Early in the third period, Brenden Dillon took a kneeing penalty against Marcus Foligno, and Foligno took exception to Dillon's hit and the two "fought" each other, although it was more of a dance than anything. Valeri Nichushkin served the extra minor for Dillon, and when the Stars killed the penalty, Nichushkin came out of the box, skated towards Ryan Miller and got off a backhand shot that Miller ultimately stopped. It is only a matter of time before Nichushkin starts to cash in on his chances, because as each game plays on, his chances only get better.
The Stars used their timeout after icing the puck with 7:36 left in the period. The Sabres did the same with 6:27 left for the same reason.
The tension reached its peak with 1:03 left in the third, when the Stars iced the puck with no timeouts. Lehtonen ultimately diffused the tension when he caught the puck and held onto it with 43 seconds left, allowing the Stars to finally get a much-needed line change.
The Sabres got two more good scoring chances in the dying seconds of the period, one with 3.6 left, and the last one with 1.2 seconds left. Lehtonen made the saves he needed to make, and the Stars ultimately held on to win.
Tuesday night, the Stars will take on the Montreal Canadiens, who will also be playing the second game of a back-to-back, after winning 2-0 Monday night against the New York Rangers. It is well-known the Stars have struggled badly on the second nights of back-to-back sets, but with both teams on the second night of a back-to-back, perhaps the narrative will be different.