FRISCO, Texas -- This has already been a landmark season for Jamie Benn.
In September, the Dallas Stars left wing was named captain. In February, Benn represented Canada at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, scoring two goals for the gold-medal winner.
Friday, after the Stars defeated the St. Louis Blues 3-0 at American Airlines Center, Benn learned what it felt like to clinch a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time when Dallas qualified for the postseason, snapping a six-year playoff drought.
"Obviously, proud of the way our team played, excited for what's to come. It's a great opportunity for this group of guys that we have," Benn said. "We know that we can beat any team. We have a confident group."
And once the final horn sounded Friday night in downtown Dallas, Benn, in most cases a man of few words, grabbed the microphone to personally thank the sellout crowd for their support, a simple act that looked natural and spontaneous from a player who has become one of the faces of the franchise.
"That was a fun moment for me. Obviously, the fans have been there through the ups and downs with us and have supported us all along the way here," Benn said. "It was definitely nice to thank them and they were definitely rocking [Friday] night."
Benn not only became Dallas' new captain last fall, he switched positions. The Stars acquired Tyler Seguin in a trade with the Boston Bruins last July and the team wanted Seguin to play center, which landed Benn on the left wing.
It's a change Benn embraced under new Dallas coach Lindy Ruff, the third different coach he's played for in his five seasons in the NHL. In 81 games, Benn had 79 points (45 assists) and was plus-21, establishing new career highs in several categories as he and Seguin comprised a potent offensive tandem on the top line for much of the season.
"Tremendous growth, I think, from a guy a little bit reserved and somewhat shy," Ruff said. "I wouldn't call him one of those teammates that can be heard a lot, but a guy that his voice, by the end of the year, was being heard quite often. He was confident in the room. He took charge of a lot of situations on ice and off-ice. I think he was nervous about his role at the start of the year, but he's grown. He just seems comfortable now. He's comfortable with his job. Now it looks like he gets the job defensively. I think he's really grabbed a hold of it."
Not only was Ruff new to the Dallas bench, but the Stars also hired a new general manager in Jim Nill, a former longtime assistant GM with the Detroit Red Wings. Nill and Ruff each has played instrumental roles in Benn taking a giant leap forward this season by first having the confidence to name him captain.
Helping the Stars make the playoffs is a great way for Benn to return the favor to Nill and Ruff.
"I think the whole coaching staff and Jim Nill, when they announced captain, they obviously had a lot of faith in me and trust in me," Benn said. "It's definitely nice getting a playoff spot for those guys that do so much. It's just fun to be part of this as a whole group."
Another reason why Benn's first postseason will be extra special is because he will be sharing that experience with older brother Jordie, a Stars defenseman who has been rock solid for Dallas in his first full NHL season.
"Absolutely, everything he's done this year, our family's really proud of him.” Jordie Benn said. “My mom and dad and sister are ecstatic for him and so am I. It's just nice to kind of be here and go along for the ride with him."
During the past four seasons, Jamie Benn has known the emptiness that accompanies missing the playoffs, but there was one ending that stung him and his teammates especially hard. In the 2010-11 season, under former coach Marc Crawford, the Stars had to win at the Minnesota Wild on the final day of the season to get into the playoffs. They didn’t.
"Yeah, it was really tough. First year was kind of a kick in the butt when you're so close and you have just one game to get in," Benn said. "It seems like those four years have built up a lot of energy and motivation to get to the playoffs."
Back then, Jamie and Jordie Benn weren't teammates yet, but Jordie, two years older than Jamie, remembers exactly how his younger brother felt after that season-ending loss to the Wild.
"When you have one game and all you've got to do is win to get in the playoffs, it's pretty heartbreaking when it doesn't go your way," Jordie Benn said. "It's obviously nice this year. We didn't wait until the last game of the year or left it to the last second of the last game of the year, but, yeah, we got it done."
But it wasn't long ago that the Stars truly hit rock bottom and making the playoffs was in serious doubt. On Jan. 20, Dallas lost 4-1 at the Nashville Predators, putting their January record at 1-8-1 and their overall record at 21-20-8.
The Stars hosted the Wild the following day in Dallas and Ruff called a closed-door meeting that morning, where he told the team he expected more energy and passion from them.
Dallas responded, blanking the Wild 4-0, and that victory served as a springboard for the Stars to go 18-11-3 in the final 32 games.
Benn feels that he and his teammates are ready to face the rigors of playoff hockey, despite a lack of postseason experience on the roster.
"Yeah, we've been doing this for a couple weeks now and I think the guys know what it takes to win these games, Benn said. “They have been some real intense games where it's do-or-die. I think that's why we could be getting this group in the playoffs is because we've been playing playoff hockey the last few weeks."
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