After six months of tedious rehabilitation following two knee operations, Dallas center Joe Nieuwendyk was only supposed to draw light duty in his season debut Thursday night.
Nieuwendyk scored the winning goal with 15:08 left and also had an assist in the Stars' 2-1 victory over the Phoenix Coyotes.
"I didn't just want to just float around out there," Nieuwendyk said. "I wanted to score and help the team win.
"The more I played, the better I felt. Just to play in a game again was a lot of fun. I couldn't have picked a better way to come back."
Niewendyk, sidelined since injuring his right knee in the playoff opener last season, knocked a loose puck past Nikolai Khabibulin on a power play.
Nieuwendyk, the Stars leading scorer last season with 39 goals and 69 points, had surgery on both knees in May. He was only able to return to full practices earlier this week following extensive rehabilitation.
Coach Ken Hitchcock's original plan was to skate Nieuwendyk on the fourth line and limit his playing time. But the Stars started slowly and needed Nieuwendyk's energy.
Hitchcock soon had Nieuwendyk on the power play, and they needed him to improve to 4-0-0 at home.
"e had six months off, so he was rested," Hitchcock joked. "He was much better than we thought he'd be. He fought for loose pucks and was good in traffic, so we said, `Why not?' We were asleep early and when he came in the game, he gave us energy."
Nieuwendyk assisted on Sergei Zubov's power-play goal in the second period that tied the game at 1. Teammates were amazed at how well Nieuwendyk bounced back after the long layoff.
"Hitch talked about playing him only a little, but he looked so good that he played a lot longer," said Jamie Langenbrunner, who assisted on Nieuwendyk's game-winner.
Zubov also assisted on Nieuwendyk's goal as the Stars scored twice on the power play, giving them 11 man-advantage goals for the season. Zubov has been on the ice for 15 of the Stars' 17 goals this season.
Ed Belfour stopped 20 shots to help Dallas improve to 4-1-1. The Coyotes fell to 2-2-0.
The Coyotes were outshot 16-4 in the final period after outplaying the Stars early.
"We had some shots, but they blocked 10 or 12 with their sticks and bodies," Phoenix center Jeremy Roenick said. "We played a hard game tonight but I don't feel we created enough offense to win. We had a lull in the third period after playing two good periods."
Phoenix opened the scoring in the first period on former Stars forward Greg Adams' power-play goal at 4:09. Dallas tied it at 12:27 of the second period on Zubov's 50-foot blast.
The Stars had an apparent goal overturned on replay with 11:56 left in the second period when scorer Mike Keane was ruled to be in the crease when the puck entered the net.
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