Stars 2, Sabres 1BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Their stars keep going down, yet the Dallas Stars keep going on.
Joe Nieuwendyk, almost forced to score with Brett Hull out and Mike Modano hampered by a serious wrist injury, had two goals and the depleted Stars regained home-ice advantage in the Stanley Cup finals by beating the Buffalo Sabres 2-1 Saturday night.
The Stars take a 2-1 edge into Game 4 on Tuesday, with two of the final three games, if necessary, in Dallas.
Nieuwendyk's goals were his 10th and 11th of the playoffs but his first in five games and might have saved the series for the two-time defending regular season champion Stars.
Nothing new there -- Nieuwendyk has seven of the Stars' 15 game-winning goals in these playoffs.
Dallas had every reason to lose but didn't, killing off eight Buffalo power plays -- one a two-man advantage -- and overcoming a groin injury that forced Hull to the locker room after less than three minutes of ice time.
Hull is eighth in NHL playoff history in scoring and had the game-winning goal in Game 2 in Dallas. His status for Game 4 is uncertain.
"If Hull can't play, that's going to be tough, but we've got some good people sitting in the wings. There's a lot of confidence here," Stars coach Ken Hitchcock said.
The Stars already were less than 100 percent with Modano, their leading regular-season scorer, bothered by a wrist injury that forced him to take a shot of painkiller before the game. He wasn't a big factor on offense and took three potentially costly penalties in the second period.
Yet the Stars persevered in the kind of dig-down-deep effort that NHL coaches lecture about from the day training camp starts. Dallas limited Buffalo -- on the Sabres' home ice, no less -- to fewer shots (3) than power plays (4) in the first period.
"We were pretty tight. We were really squeezing the sticks," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "They gave us a darned good lesson. They suffocated us. We didn't skate well, but a lot of that had to do with the way they played." With Buffalo unable to convert its numerous man-advantage chances, Nieuwendyk tied it at 7:51 of the second by poking in a rebound of his own wrist shot past sprawling Dominik Hasek, who had gone down to play the first shot.
Nieuwendyk got the game-winner at 10:25 of the third, taking Jamie Langenbrunner's bouncing pass from behind the net to wrist the puck past Hasek for the biggest goal of his career.
"That was a goal-scorer's goal," Hitchcock said. "A lot of guys put that puck in position to make a play but don't, but he did. Scorers make those plays."
Two of the three games have been won by the visiting team -- Buffalo won 3-2 in overtime in Game 1 -- and the loss was Buffalo's first in eight home playoff games.
For the third consecutive game, the team that scored the first goal lost. Dallas scored first in Game 1 and the Sabres took the early lead in Dallas' 4-2 victory in Game 2.
Even as the Stars repeatedly took retaliatory penalties to counter Buffalo's physical play, the Sabres' first goal came at even strength.
Catching Dallas goaltender Ed Belfour out of position, Stu Barnes took Richard Smehlik's pass in the right circle and wristed it into the unguarded net at 7:51 for his eighth goal in the playoffs.
The Sabres hadn't scored at even strength since Jason Woolley's overtime game-winner in Game 1.
But the Sabres' power play was a liability in their first home Stanley Cup playoff game since the fog-filled 1974 finals at Municipal Auditorium, wasting a chance to build on the lead by not scoring on two penalties on Modano within a 2 1/2-minute span.
"When we killed those penalties in the first period, we were really energized and excited," Hitchcock said. "That was so much confidence for us, to kill those penalties. With two days off coming up, we blew everything out defensively."
Nieuwendyk's first goal quieted not only the sellout crowd of 18,595 at Marine Midland Arena, but the nearly 15,000 watching on the big screen down the street at Dunn Tire Park, the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons' ballpark.
The big question -- whether Modano would play with what may be a fractured wrist -- was quickly answered as he started the game. But he put the Stars at a disadvantage by taking three penalties in the final 10 minutes of the second period.
Whether Modano has a hairline fracture still hasn't been clarified. He is wearing a protective rubber cast away from the rink and the Stars are declining to answer any questions relating to the injury.
But while the Stars were relieved when Modano decided he could ignore the pain and play, they didn't stay healthy for long.
Hull was hip-checked by Alexei Zhitnik with about eight minutes left in the first period.
and immediately went to the dressing room. He was diagnosed with a strained groin and did not return.
"We knew when Brett Hull went down, we wouldn't get many offensive opportunities, but we played defense with so much passion," Hitchcock said.