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ROOKIE EXCELS DURING LONG NIGHT

It would have been understandable if Victor Hedman felt a little fatigued after Wednesday night's game.

The Lightning's rookie defenseman played a game-high 27 minutes, 15 seconds in the 4-3 shootout loss to the Stars at the American Airlines Center, a full 4:39 more than anyone else.

If it was a test from coach Rick Tocchet, Hedman passed.

"If I had to say who tried and played hard, Victor would be in my top, absolutely," Tocchet said.

"It was great," Hedman said. "It was great to play those minutes."

Tampa Bay, without its star players, acquitted itself well against a fully loaded Stars team in its preseason opener.

It overcame a 2-0 first-period deficit with goals by Todd Fedoruk, Todd McLean and Blair Jones, who gave the Lightning a 3-2 lead 5:55 into the third period. McLean had a goal and an assist.

Goalie Antero Niittymaki was sharp with 13 saves on 15 shots in two periods, and Jaroslav Janus, who allowed only Brad Richards' goal in the shootout, had 10 saves on 11 shots in his first NHL action.

There were some bumps. Dallas' first-period goals by Loui Ericksson and Richards were on the power play. And Tampa Bay was 1-for-9 with the man advantage and had nothing to show for a 1:51 five-on-three.

The Lightning also couldn't hold its third-period lead as Jamie Neal tied the score with 3:14 left.

But they were smoothed out to a degree by Hedman, the No. 2 overall pick in June's draft.

"Victor is an excellent player," Tocchet said. "He makes mistakes like everybody, and we'll work with him. But the poise of his is something you don't teach."

Hedman, who had two blocked shots and a shot on goal, got a taste of the rough stuff with 54.5 seconds left in the second period as he tied up with Jamie Benn.

"I'm not the type of guy who steps back," Hedman said.

Before it escalated into a fight, Tampa Bay's 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 made the score 2-2.

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 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. ... There were 24 penalties in the game, including 20 minors. ... Defenseman Matt Smaby had a game-high five blocked shots. ... 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 was used in this report. Damian Cristodero can be reached at cristodero@sptimes.com.

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