Joe Nieuwendyk scored twice for the Dallas Stars, but the struggling Stanley Cup champions needed a disputed goal by an obscure rookie to finally put away the expansion Atlanta Thrashers.
Roman Lyashenko scored the first NHL goal of his career while sprawled on his stomach, capping a three-goal outburst in the third period that carried the Stars to a 4-2 victory Sunday night.
The controversial goal came after goaltender Rick Tabaracci, playing his first game for the Thrashers, made a kick save and fell to the ice, struggling to cover up the loose puck.
The Thrashers argued vehemently with referee Mick McGeough, but he allowed the Stars' two-goal lead to stand.
"The puck was under my arm," Tabaracci said. "I felt him push at it once and it stayed there. He pushed again and it came loose. He was laying on his belly with no stick, so I'm not sure how he could have put it in with stick."
Actually, Lyashenko still had a grasp on his stick when he was knocked down in his crease. The rookie insisted that he used the shaft to push the puck under Tabaracci's arm.
"I just scored," said Lyashenko, playing his fifth game since being recalled from the minors on Nov. 4. "I scored with my stick. I just pushed it in with my stick."
Atlanta, which has the worst record in the NHL after losing nine of its last 11 games, led 2-1 after scoring two goals against Ed Belfour just 37 seconds apart in the second period.
But the Stars bounced back for only their second victory in eight games, stunning the Thrashers by coring three times within a span of 4:40 in the final period.
"We played with desperation," Nieuwendyk said. "We talked at the end of the second period, and we took it to them from the opening faceoff. It paid off for us."
The Stars won despite going 0-for-7 on the power play. They peppered Tabaracci with 32 shots, while Belfour stopped 23 of 25.
"Most teams we play against can crank it up to a second gear. When they do that, we struggle," Thrashers coach Curt Fraser said. "It's tough when you're playing against a team with that much speed and skill."
Nieuwendyk, who scored in the first period to give Dallas a 1-0 lead, put the Stars ahead to stay at 5:27 with his sixth goal of the season. He skated out of the corner uncontested and fired a shot from the right faceoff circle that slipped under Tabaracci's right arm.
Tabaracci, recalled Friday from the minor-league Orlando, is the fourth goalie to play for the Thrashers, whose top two netminders, Damian Rhodes and Norm Maracle, are both on the injured list.
"For two periods, I thought (Tabaracci) was great," Fraser said. "He was rock solid. Then one gets by him and it puts us in a tough spot."
Atlanta had gone more than six periods without scoring before reaching the net twice just past the midway point of the game.
On a power play, Yannick Tremblay fired a shot to Belfour's left, the puck taking a weird bounce and popping out right in front of the net to Andrew Brunette. The Thrashers' leading scorer knew what to do, faking Belfour to the ice and flipping in a backhander at 10:10 of the second for his 10th goal.
The crowd was still celebrating when Mike Stapleton, skating along the boards, found Denny Lambert open in the left faceoff circle. Lambert scored his second goal of the season with a shot that deflected off Hatcher and past Belfour at 10:47, giving Atlanta a lead.
But the Thrashers couldn't hold it.
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