The Dallas Stars broke training camp in early October as one of the favorites to come out of the Western Conference, and for good reason. The franchise had come within a catastrophic injury to Joe Niuewendyk and two losses short of reaching the Stanley Cup final in 1998. The ‘98 team had also captured the President’s Trophy as the best team in the NHL, and by all accounts showed little signs of slowing down. If that wasn’t enough to make the Stars a preseason darling, the July signing of all-world sniper Brett Hull put the league on notice. The Stars were all in on 1998-1999.
October 10, 1998 would serve as the launching point for a campaign that the franchise hoped would end in a completely different fashion than the one that came before it. The opening night tilt at Reunion Arena would also provide some foreshadowing, with the Buffalo Sabres coming to town.
Like the Stars, the Sabres entered the 1998-99 season looking to avenge their conference finals loss from a season ago. A four games to two loss to the Washington Capitols. Anchored by goaltender Dominik Hasek, the Sabres were a worthy opponent for the Stars to open the season.
The game would be a 4-1 win for the Stars, but the game was closer than the score reflects, being that it was littered with penalties by both teams. The first goal of the game and of the Star season, was a product of a Darryl Sydor powerplay goal at 10:40 of the first period and on the backend of a Curtis Brown holding penalty. Let the PP fest begin. In fact, each Dallas goal in the game with the exception of Mike Modano’s late first period goal, would come on the PowerPlay. The same could be said about Buffalo, as their lone goal would be a PP tally courtesy of Geoff Sanderson, finally giving Buffalo life as Dallas had jumped to a 3-0 lead.
At the final horn the Stars had recorded 4 goals from Sydor, Modano, Pat Verbeek, and Jere Lethinen on 26 shots, going 3/8 with the man advantage. The Sabres, would best Eddie Belfour 1 time on 28 shots, while going 1/5 on the PowerPlay. All in all, the game was a rough affair with one fight between new Star Brent Severyn and Rob Ray, and a handful of matching minor penalties. A total of 56 penalty minutes. However, the Stars would notch their first win against a quality opponent, setting the proper tone going forward.
With the first tilt out of the way, the club would follow their opening win with another a 3-1 defeat of the Chicago Blackhawks, giving the club a quick two game winning streak. However, the first foray on the road would give the team a taste of early season adversity. A trip to Carolina would yield a 2-2 tie at the Greensboro Coliseum, which would be followed with a 4-3 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks two nights later. Luckily for the Stars, the early season would see the Stars in the great state of Texas for seven of nine games in October, and the club responded with a four game unbeaten streak (3 wins and 1 tie).*
*Note: The 1998-99 NHL season would include ties after a five minute overtime period, in which both teams would be awarded 1 point. The tie would be eliminated in the 2005-06 season.
The streak came as the Stars were preparing for a pivotal rematch with the Detroit Red Wings at Reunion. The Wings were coming off their 2nd consecutive championship and a strong start to the season, as they rolled into Dallas with a 6-3-0 record. This game would provide the greatest test for the Stars in the young season, and a chance to partly vanquish past demons.
The tilt would start badly for the Stars, literally, as Kirk Maltby scored to give Detroit the lead 1 minute into the first period. To make matters worse, the Stars would afford the Red Wings a PowerPlay via a Craig Ludwig interference call at 7:37 of the first period. The Wings would go straight to work on the advantage and punish the Stars with a Steve Yzerman goal, giving them a commanding 2-0 lead midway through the first period. In another heavily penalized affair the Stars would not find their offense until Brett Hull beat Chris Osgood to cut the lead in half. The Stars would begin to roll.
When the second period began, the Stars would find themselves short handed one again. However, Jere Lethinen would turn the advantage on its head with a short handed goal a mere 22 seconds into the period. The Stars had responded.
The 2nd period would continue with little offense and a steady stream of guys to the penalty box, as both teams would exchange chances. The third period would be no different, as the only movement on the score board were the minutes ticking off on penalty time and shots on goal. Brett Hull would change that in the 14th minute of action with his second goal of the evening, bringing the Stars from an 0-2 deficit to a 3-2 advantage. An advantage the Stars would hold for a pivotal early season win.
The win against the Red Wings on Halloween night 1998, would be the final win for the Stars in a very impressive start to the season. In October, the Stars would run a 6-1-2 record for 14 points, with their every win coming on home ice. The Stars would also score 25 goals while giving up 16. The Stars would have offense spread through the lineup, but the focus in October is on the first line. Mike Modano, Brett Hull, and Jere Lethinen would combine for 10 of the Stars 25 goals, powering the Stars to their impressive start and building chemistry as the calendar flipped to November.
The start to the season would see the Stars battle a future foe, develop a distinct home ice advantage, and put to rest the memories of 1998’s playoffs. As the season rolled into November, the tests would keep coming for the Stars as they looked towards the ultimate goal.
Next: Chronicling the 1998-99 Dallas Stars: November