DALLAS (CBSMiami/AP) – It’s been months since the Florida Panthers played a meaningful game, but the Cats hit the ice Thursday night for their 2013-2014 regular season debut and did it in style.
Florida’s Alexsander Barkov scored a tying goal against the Dallas Stars and then veteran Marcel Goc followed with two goals of his own in the third period to take the opening game of the season 4-2 over the Stars.
“It had a lot of aspects to it,” said Panthers coach Kevin Dineen, whose team had the worst record in the lockout-shortened season after a division-winning campaign. “Our young players coming through and making a difference, a really nice goal. Our veteran guys stepping up when they needed to.”
The Panthers erased a 2-1 deficit with goals about 4½ minutes apart.
Barkov, the No. 2 pick in this year’s draft, scored as bodies piled up around Kari Lehtonen in front of the Dallas net. The teenager found the loose puck, spun and shot it inside the left post to make it 2-2.
“He had a big game,” Panthers forward Kris Versteeg said. “He ended up playing well. He played great for us.”
Goc put Florida in front when he took a centering pass from Tomas Fleischmann and beat Lehtonen with 4:55 remaining. He scored again into an empty net in the final 2 minutes.
“We didn’t win enough battles,” said Ruff, who spent 15 seasons with Buffalo before getting fired by the Sabres in the middle of last season. “When it was 2-2 and they walked in through the neutral zone to score, that wasn’t a good play for our team.”
Three minutes before Barkov’s goal, Brenden Dillon gave Dallas a 2-1 lead with a short-handed goal. He trailed a play that was started near center ice by Vernon Fiddler and put the puck in an open net after Tim Thomas stopped Antoine Roussel.
The Stars couldn’t hold the lead in the regular-season debut of “Victory Green” jerseys, carrying a shade closer to what the franchise had in Minnesota before moving south two decades ago.
They also had a bevy of new faces, but all the scoring for Dallas was by holdovers. Center Tyler Seguin had the biggest contribution among the newcomers with two shots in 16-plus minutes.
“They played the same way all night,” Dillon said. “They worked up and down the ice, and just came back on us. We can’t take anything for granted. No lead is safe.”
Barkov wasn’t the only teenager taken in the top 10 this year to make his debut on Dallas ice. But Valeri Nichushkin, an 18-year-old Russian taken at No. 10 by the Stars, had a much quieter night.
Nichushkin had one shot in more than 17 minutes of ice time. Barkov ended up with four shots in 13:19.
The Stars pulled even at 1 in the second period when Alex Chiasson went behind the net and stuffed the puck past Thomas, Tom Gilbert and Brian Campbell as they converged. The Panthers trio knocked the net loose just as Chiasson’s shot crossed the goal line.
Dallas’ Ryan Garbutt and Florida’s Dmitry Kulikov were ejected in the first period when they started fighting a few moments after Panthers defenseman Mike Weaver and Roussel fought. The sequence started when Weaver shoved Roussel after the Stars forward kept poking at the puck in Thomas’ pads.
Roussel received a 10-minute misconduct, but wasn’t ejected, and was given an extra 2-minute penalty for instigating.
Scott Gomez, a 14-year veteran in his first season with the Panthers, opened the scoring with a backhand shot from the crease after a pass from behind the net by Scottie Upshall.
“This is a new day for him,” Thomas said of Gomez. “I know he’s going to score a lot this year. The monkey is off his back.”
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