DALLAS Brad Richards did only one thing wrong in his Dallas Stars debut. He raised expectations impossibly high.
Richards had an assist on just his second shift, then added two more helpers in the second period and another two in the third. The five assists matched a franchise record and were a first since the club moved to Dallas. The five points were a career high and the most by a Stars player in five years. His handiwork also set up new linemate Niklas Hagman's first NHL hat trick.
Anything else? Oh, yes the Stars beat the Chicago Blackhawks 7-4 Thursday night. Dallas has won four straight and 13 of 15 to get within three points of Detroit for the top spot in the Western Conference.
"I'm so happy to be a part of this," said Richards, acquired Tuesday from Tampa Bay, which has the worst record in the East. "They've got a good thing going here. I went from looking like I'd be done the first of April to making a good run at (the Stanley Cup)."
Richards added that he "felt like a little kid again" because he was so nervous about how he'd fit in on his new team. Of course, passing out gifts at a rate like this will make him real popular, real quickly.
"It was a good solid first outing," coach Dave Tippett said with a smile.
Richards had 18 goals and 33 assists in 62 games for the Lightning, but co-general manager Brett Hull saw the 2004 Conn Smythe Trophy winner as someone who could turn a good offense into a great one this postseason. He was so sure of it he convinced owner Tom Hicks to take on the final three years of a contract that pays $7.8 million per season, while Richards agreed to waive a no-trade clause.
Hicks probably feels even better about it now. Team stalwart Mike Modano sure does.
"We brought in an elite player and he is going to make us better around him," said Modano, who had a goal and an assist. "I think talent and skill guys never have a hard time adjusting and coming in and fitting in on a team. If anything, they raise their level and everybody raises theirs right with them. Those type of players are few and far between that can make an impact like that."
Wearing No. 91 a reverse of the 19 he'd worn his entire career with Tampa Bay Richards got fans' attention the first time he stepped on the ice, opening his shift by winning a faceoff at center ice. Then he set up the tying score only 49 seconds after his team had fallen behind, putting a long pass right on the blade of Hagman's stick at the lip of the goal for a tap-in score.
Trevor Daley, who had only two goals all season, scored on Richards' least fancy set-up of the night. Jere Lehtinen was the benficiary of Richards' final assist, on a power play with 3:11 left.
FLYERS 3, SENATORS 1: At Philadelphia, Mike Knuble scored twice to spoil Bryan Murray's return behind the Ottawa bench and lead Philadelphia over the Senators. Murray, also the Senators general manager, coached the team for the first time since the Anaheim Ducks eliminated Ottawa in last year's Stanley Cup finals.
The pressure will surely build after the Senators' seventh loss in nine games and 15th in 22. They've lost three straight, though Jason Spezza's 25th goal prevented the Senators from getting shut out for the third consecutive time.
Knuble scored twice in the third period and Jim Dowd also had a goal for the Flyers, who won their second straight after a 10-game losing streak (0-8-2).
BRUINS 5, PENGUINS 1: At Boston, Tim Thomas stopped 27 shots, Marco Sturm scored twice to reach 200 NHL goals and Boston topped Pittsburgh for its fifth consecutive victory. Two nights after shutting out the Ottawa Senators, Thomas held the Penguins scoreless until Pascal Dupuis beat him with 6:57 left. Zdeno Chara, P.J. Axelsson and David Krejci also scored for Boston, which has back-to-back victories over two of the top three teams in the Eastern Conference.
Dupuis was playing in his first game with Pittsburgh since being acquired from Atlanta at the trade deadline. Also coming to the Penguins in that deal was Marian Hossa. He lasted just 13 shifts before leaving the game and missing the third period with a knee injury.
Penguins starter Ty Conklin, who had a career-high 50 saves on Tuesday to beat the Islanders, was pulled after giving up three goals in 13 shots in 22:21. In came Marc-Andre Fleury, who hadn't played for Pittsburgh since Dec. 6; he stopped 16 of 18 shots as the Penguins lost for the first time in seven games.
ISLANDERS 5, THRASHERS 4 (OT): At Atlanta, Trent Hunter scored in overtime and the New York Islanders recovered after blowing a three-goal lead to beat slumping Atlanta, which has lost five straight. Josef Vasicek gained control of the puck following a faceoff and passed to Hunter, who scored at 3:51 to give the Thrashers their fifth straight loss.
Atlanta's Bobby Holik scored with 1:22 left in regulation to force overtime.
Mike Comrie's second goal of the game gave New York a 4-3 lead early in the third period. Vasicek and Andy Hilbert also scored for the Islanders.
Eric Perrin scored on a short-handed penalty shot, and Ken Klee and Alexei Zhitnik also scored for the Thrashers.
RANGERS 4, HURRICANES 2: At Raleigh, N.C., Brandon Dubinsky and Sean Avery scored first-period goals to lift the New York Rangers to their third straight victory and sixth in eight games (6-0-2). Chris Drury pushed the Rangers' lead to 3-0 in the second period, and Brendan Shanahan closed the scoring in the third after the Hurricanes got within a goal. Erik Cole scored twice for Carolina, including once on the power play.
COYOTES 2, BLUES 1: At St. Louis, Ilya Bryzgalov and Phoenix beat St. Louis for the fourth time this season and second in less than a week. Bryzgalov made 41 saves and Phoenix won at St. Louis for the sixth straight time. The Blues dropped their fifth consecutive.
Bryzgalov (24-18-5), claimed off waivers from Anaheim earlier this season, topped the Blues 2-0 last Sunday at home with a 35-save effort.
St. Louis, which scored just three goals in four games, got some early offense when Ryan Johnson netted his fourth of the season at 15:13 of the first period. That was the extent of what they could generate against Bryzgalov.
Phoenix tied it when Ed Jovanovski scored a power-play goal at 17:21. Just 44 seconds later, and still with a man-advantage, Niko Kapanen deflected a shot from Keith Yandle through Manny Legace's pads for his ninth goal.
OILERS 5, KINGS 4: At Edmonton, British Columbia, Ales Hemsky scored two goals and added an assist for the Edmonton Oilers, who earned their third straight win in a matchup of the bottom two teams in the Western Conference.