ST. LOUIS - More than ever, the Dallas Stars need offence from Jamie Benn. He completed his first career hat trick with a shot that was such a dart, it banged off goalie Jake Allen's mask.
"It was a great shot, actually hit me in the face," Allen said after the Stars' 4-1 rout of the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday night. "That's why I didn't move, because it was coming at my face.
"I think he's probably the most underrated player in the league."
Teammates and coach Lindy Ruff were surprised that before Benn jumped all over one of the NHL's best teams, he'd had zero three-goal games.
"I thought he had many of them already," Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen said. "He was leading us and it's fun to watch."
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock yanked goalie Brian Elliott in favour of Allen after Dallas took a 3-0 lead before the midway mark of the first period, the last two goals coming in a 20-second span. It was a bit of a continuation from a rough third period in a victory at Florida two days earlier.
"I think this was a team that wasn't ready to compete. Weren't ready from the start," Hitchcock said. "Troubling. It's concerning."
The top line of David Backes, T.J. Oshie and Alexander Steen were all minus-2 in the first period. Backes said Benn was "shooting from the ladies' tees" on his first goal.
Jason Spezza had three assists and Lehtonen was stingy in net again for the Stars, who have won four of five and triumphed on Ruff's 55th birthday. Dallas entered 11th in the Western Conference with 60 points, 18 behind St. Louis, and needs a lift with leading scorer Tyler Seguin out indefinitely due to injury.
"I think I've said it before: I put pressure on myself to step my game up," Benn said. "I do whatever it takes to help this team."
Patrik Berglund spoiled Lehtonen's bid for a second straight shutout with 7:30 remaining. Lehtonen's scoreless streak was 1:45:48.
"Before I needed to do anything, it was already 3-0 and that's kind of special," Lehtonen said. "We just kept playing after that."
Benn had three two-goal games earlier this season, two of them on the road, with the last coming just four games ago at Boston last Tuesday. The Stars' captain has nine goals and five assists in the last 11 games.
Blues defenceman Barret Jackman played in his 780th game, all with St. Louis, passing Hall of Famer Brian Sutter for second on the franchise list. Another Hall of Famer, team broadcaster Bernie Federko, is first at 927 games.
Jackman drew a fighting major after dropping the gloves with Antoine Roussel in the third period.
The Blues entered tied for second overall in the NHL and had been 15-3-1 in this calendar year, best in the league. They fell to 21-6-2 at home.
Benn opened the scoring on a slap shot 2:47 in, getting plenty of room after Spezza won a faceoff in the St. Louis end. Benn's second of the night came on a 2-on-1 break at 8:18, and Cody Eakin chased Elliott when he tapped home a rebound on a rush at 8:38, prompting a timeout and the goalie switch.
Benn's 22nd goal came on a power play at 3:39 of the second and gave the Stars their third hat trick of the season ??? the other two by Seguin.
Seguin has five hat tricks the last two seasons. The last Dallas player other than Seguin to get a hat trick was Steve Ott, now with St. Louis, on March 31, 2010.
NOTES: Blues F Chris Porter is close to returning from an ankle injury sustained Dec. 29 against Colorado. ... The Blues haven't been shut out at home since losing 3-0 to Detroit in the regular-season finale last season. ... Elliott had been 10-3-1 at home. ... Dallas leads the season series 2-1 with two games to go, both in Dallas.