No. 1 star: Dave Tippett, Dallas Stars
The veteran coach pulled all of the right strings Wednesday night to snap his team out of a funk and hand Minnesota its first loss in regulation this season, all at the same time. Tippett was none too happy about his usually defensively-responsible Stars leading the league in goals against, but he also realizes the season is a marathon and not a sprint. With that in mind, he sat starting goalie Marty Turco, not so much out of punishment but more in an effort to allow the veteran starter to work out some kinks in practice. Tippett and Turco both know Dallas will go as far as Turco carries the team. In stepped backup Tobias Stephan, who made 19 saves for his first career win during his second ever start. The other key was stressing a game plan to successfully break Minnesota's famed neutral-zone trap. The Stars owned the neutral zone, something that rarely happens against a Jacques Lemaire-coached team. The Stars moved quickly and decidedly between the blue lines, quite content to toss pucks deep in the Minnesota zone and work to win one-on-one battles instead of trying to stickhandle through center. It worked in the form of a three-goal start for the Stars against a team that had allowed only three goals total during their first seven games combined.
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The Finnish Flash scored Anaheim's first three goals to record the 21st hat trick of his sure-fire Hall of Fame career. All three of Selanne's goals came on the power play, one in each period and two of them tied the game. Selanne, who doubled his season total from three to six goals scored, has 558 career goals and 1,165 points in 1,078 games. The 38-year-old veteran in his 17th NHL season had four shots on goal during 20:23 of ice time.
It appears the Leafs' forward got the message from a recent one-game healthy scratch, his first since March of 2006. Stajan scored two goals and added an assist as the Maple Leafs went into New Jersey and surprised the Devils 6-5 in a shootout. Stajan started the Leafs' rally from a 2-0 deficit after the opening period with two goals just 78 seconds apart early in the middle period. Stajan provided the primary assist on Toronto's fifth goal, a power-play tally midway through the third that was the visitors' final goal of regulation. Stajan had three shots, one block, one hit and one takeaway during 18:35 of ice time on a night he was busy in the faceoff circle taking 28 draws.
Honorable mention: Kudos to Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson, who stuck with starting goalie Vesa Toskala when Wednesday's game went from sudden death to the shootout. He learned from last week's move to insert a cold backup that regardless of past history, it's just not a solid strategy. … Minnesota's penalty kill can take a bow, killing the first 24 short-handed situations this season until finally surrendering a power-play goal in Dallas. … Niklas Hagman pulled out a nifty backhand shot in close after a quick hockey stop that produced the shootout-deciding goal at New Jersey. … And one more for the Leafs. They outshot the Devils 48-25 during regulation despite playing the night before when New Jersey had been idle for three nights.
Dishonorable mention: He doesn't land in this column much, but Devils goalie Martin Brodeur had a rare off-night. Brodeur allowed five goals in regulation, then two more during the shootout in a home loss against Toronto. … The NHL changed the NHL trade deadline, but the league went in the wrong direction. Shifting it 24 hours ahead to March 4 when two games are scheduled instead of on March 3 when 12 games are set, the NHL missed the boat because the deadline ought to really be sometime in February to give players longer to assimilate into their new teams.