BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) Derek Stepan became the fourth player to score three times in his NHL debut and led the New York Rangers to a season-opening 6-3 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday night.
After being credited with the opening goal, which caromed off several skates, Stepan scored twice 3:12 apart late in the second period to complete the hat trick and put the Rangers ahead 4-1.
Stepan beat Ryan Miller – the NHL’s Vezina Trophy winner last year – on each of his first three shots in also becoming the second Rangers player to open a season with three goals. Ron Murphy did it in 1955.
Brandon Dubinsky scored twice and Erik Christensen added a goal for the Rangers. Sean Avery and defenseman Dan Girardi had two assists each, and Henrik Lundqvist stopped 33 shots.
Buffalo defenseman Jordan Leopold scored twice and added an assist, and Derek Roy – with his third of the season – also scored for the Sabres in their home opener.
The Sabres, who won 2-1 at Ottawa on Friday, looked like the more tired team. They were outshot 10-4 in the first period before holding a 32-18 edge in the final two frames.
But they were no match for Stepan, who became the first player to record a hat trick in his first NHL game since Dallas’ Fabian Brunnstrom on Oct. 15, 2008. Real Cloutier of Quebec did it in 1979, and Montreal’s Alex Smart accomplished the feat first in 1943.
Stepan, a second-round draft pick in 2008, might not have been in the lineup if not for injuries to captain Chris Drury (broken finger) and fellow veteran forward Vinny Prospal (knee).
His first goal was a bit of a fluke, as Girardi’s point shot struck Stepan and rolled through the crease. The puck deflected in off Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers, who was guarding Avery at the left post.
Stepan then took over in putting the game away 4:01 after Leopold cut the Rangers’ lead to 2-1.
Driving to the left of the net, Stepan converted Marc Staal’s rebound by flipping the puck over Miller. Avery then set up Stepan’s third goal with a nifty behind-the-back pass from behind the Buffalo net that hit him alone in the slot.
Stepan nearly added a fourth goal in the final minute when his shot from the Sabres blue line caromed off the outside of the post of an empty net.
Stepan, who tied for the team lead with three preseason goals, had a breakthrough year at Wisconsin last season. He was second in the NCAA with 54 points, including 12 goals.
NOTES: Drury skated with the team Saturday morning for the first time since breaking his left index finger during a scrimmage on Sept. 20. There is still no timetable for his return. … The Rangers’ don’t open at home until Friday vs. Toronto. … The Sabres began a four-game homestand, and are in the midst of playing six games in nine days. … The Rangers, celebrating their 85th anniversary, opened the season once before against Buffalo, losing 2-1 at home in the shortened 1994-95 season. … The start of the game was delayed by nearly 20 minutes as the Sabres celebrated the home start of their 40th anniversary and unveiled their 2010 Northeast Division championship banner.
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