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RICHARDS WINS OPENER FOR STARS

Five days into training camp and Lightning coaches were itching for a game.

"You do all this projecting and talking," associate coach Rick Wilson said. "Let's talk the talk and get at it."

A Tampa Bay squad, without its top players, did just that to the fully loaded Stars, falling 4-3 in a shootout in its preseason opener Wednesday night at American Airlines Center.

No Lightning player scored on Tyler Beskorowany while Brad Richards scored on Jaroslav Janus for Dallas.

Brett McLean had a goal and an assist for Tampa Bay, and Antero Niittymaki was sharp for two periods with 13 saves on 15 shots. Jaroslav Janus stopped 10 off shots in the third.

Special teams were unsteady as Dallas went ahead 2-0 in the first on power-play goals by Loui Ericksson and Richards, whose shot deflected off Tampa Bay defenseman Mike Lundin.

The Lightning was 1-for-9 on the power play and had nothing to show for a 1:51 five-on-three.

Todd Fedoruk made it 2-1 5:45 into the second on a terrific goal that began with the left wing carrying past defenseman Matt Niskanen and finishing with a shot over Marty Turco's right shoulder.

Lightning rookie defenseman Victor Hedman got a taste of the rough stuff with 54.5 seconds left as he tied up with Jamie Benn. Before it escalated, teammate Jeff Halpern jumped in to help separate the combatants.

The Lightning got a power play out of it, and McLean's goal with 29 seconds left tied the score.

Blair Jones gave Tampa Bay a 3-2 lead 5:55 into the third when he pushed the rebound of Halpern's shot past Beskorowany. But Jamie Neal tied it with 3:14 left.

WELCOME HOME: Even Wilson had to shake his head at the circumstances; that after 16 seasons as a Stars assistant, his first game as the Lightning's associate coach was in Dallas.

"Ironic, that's the first word that comes to mind," said Wilson, 59, who was not in the Stars' plans with new coach Marc Crawford.

"I actually tried not to think about it, the number of games and the time spent here. I tried to stay focused on where we are now, today, learning the players, figuring out a lot of things in a short period of time. That's paramount, but there's a bit of a dichotomy where your attention sort of sits."

A BIG FAN:Halpern called Adam Oates "the smartest hockey guy I ever met, by a long shot."

Halpern played with Oates for the Capitals from 1999-2002 and said he continued to call Oates about "faceoffs and different things like that" after Oates was traded to the Flyers.

"So it's fun for me to have him back here and see him in a hockey environment again," Halpern said. "I think it suits him."

Oates, sixth all-time with 1,079 assists, is in camp coaching the power play for free as a favor to buddy Rick Tocchet. On Tuesday, Oates said he would like to eventually be added to the staff.

"There are a lot of smart hockey people, no disrespect. But his ability to explain things and translate things, I learned a tremendous amount from him," Halpern said. "He was always a coach on the ice. He saw things pretty clearly. I learned a ton from him just having him back for a week."

MORE HALPERN: Wednesday was Halpern's first trip to Dallas since he was acquired from the Stars in February 2008 as part of the Brad Richards/Mike Smith deal.

"I really enjoyed it, playing here," said Halpern, whose first season with Dallas was 2006-07. "I was pretty excited about the prospects of that year's playoffs, so I had fun playing here for a year and a half. It's not as emotional as it was in Washington, the team I came up with. But I have a lot of good friends here, a lot of good memories."

ODDS AND ENDS: Tocchet said a second round of cuts might happen today. ... Tampa Bay's preseason record against the Stars is 5-1-4, including 4-0-1 in Dallas. ... The Lightning plays its only home preseason game Friday against the Thrashers.

* * *

Around the league: Devils lose big scorer

NEWARK, N.J. - Devils wing Patrik Elias will miss 3-6 weeks after groin surgery. Elias, 33, whose 31 goals last season were second on the team, had a procedure to break up scar tissue that had built up during the four seasons since similar surgery during 2005-06.

Hedican exits: Bret Hedican, one of 14 American defensemen to play 1,000 games, retired. In 17 seasons, he had 55 goals and 239 assists while playing for the Blues, Canucks, Ducks, Panthers and Hurricanes, for whom he won the Stanley Cup in 2005-06.

Information from Times wires contributed to this report. Damian Cristodero can be reached at cristodero@sptimes.com.

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