Jamie Benn and his Stars teammates can almost taste the playoffs for the second straight year, and he doesn’t mind playing through some pain to arrive in the post-season. The Dallas Stars captain is leading his team’s feverish rally that has seen them win nine of its last 11 games, with five of them occurring on the road.
Benn scored his 27th goal to help Dallas capture a 4-3 shootout victory in Calgary on Wednesday night (March 25) that moved the Stars to within six points of 8th place Winnipeg for the final wild card playoff berth in the NHL’s Western Conference.
The Stars have made this late-season surge without the services of assistant captain and defenseman Trevor Daley, who suffered a knee injury on March 3, but may return when the current road trip continues Friday in Edmonton or Saturday at Vancouver.
Benn, who suffered an undisclosed injury late in Monday’s 4-3 victory over visiting Buffalo, shook off the soreness that prevented him from practicing on Tuesday to suit up and take his regular shift. He gave the Stars a 2-0 lead in the second period by converting a feed from Jason Spezza.
Despite Calgary’s ability to rally twice and forge 2-2 and 3-3 ties, the Stars won their fourth straight and seventh of their last eight games when Tyler Seguin beat Flames goalie Karri Ramo in the shootout while Stars netminder Kari Lehtonen (33-13-10) stopped Joe Colborne, Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan.
“That’s when you’ve got to push back and respond even harder,” said Benn, the Stars’ leading scorer with 71 points, including four goals in three of the last four games. “We knew this was going to be a tough one. (Calgary is) having a heck of a year. They are a good, young team.”
“We knew we needed two points,” said coach Lindy Ruff. “That puts pressure on the teams above us. Winnipeg recognizes where we are now. It’s a situation where we might have to run the table, and (even) that might not get you in.”
The Stars began their long trek back into the playoff race with a victory over the visiting Islanders on March 3 and added a win at Florida two nights later. After losing in Tampa Bay, they responded with triumphs in Philadelphia, Carolina and Washington before suffering a 3-0 shutout loss to St. Louis at American Airlines Center that put them one game below .500 on home ice.
The Stars responded with a 2-1 win over visiting Pittsburgh in which they played “kitty bar the door” hockey by surviving a furious 15-shot Penguin onslaught in the final 20 minutes. They won their second and third straight with a dominating 4-0 shutout of visiting Chicago and the come from behind win over the Sabres.
“(This playoff push) is real hard, (but) we put ourselves in a tough spot,” he added. “The chase is hard. It’s going to be agonizing but we’ve just got to keep taking care of our own end. We can’t do anything about Winnipeg winning — our responsibility is to just take it a game at a time and be prepared to win games.”
The Stars have eight games remaining, including home tilts vs. the Flames, Blues and Predators and visits to Edmonton, Vancouver, San Jose, Anaheim and Nashville.