Benn scored the game-tying goal early in the third period and the overtime game-winner to lead the Texas Stars to a thrilling 2-1 victory over the Hamilton Bulldogs Friday night in front of 6,219 raucous fans at the Cedar Park Center.
The top minor league affiliate of the Dallas Stars, Texas battled back from a third period 1-0 deficit to win its second straight OT game at home. The result evens the AHL’s Western Conference Finals at two games apiece, with the pivotal Game 5 here in the Austin suburb on Saturday.
“I have some grey,” joked Texas coach Glen Gulutzan after the third overtime game of the series. “I think we tried to stay as persistent as we could. I thought we played a strong defensive game tonight. This team is full of (character) and that’s what it takes in the playoffs to get this far. They’re a very focused group and our character showed in that third period, we battled back.”
The 20-year-old Benn has been all he was advertised as and more at the AHL level, delivering another dynamic performance that left him with the league lead in playoff goals, 13, in 15 games. He was clearly the best player on the ice.
After Warren Peters held the puck in at the Hamilton blueline, he fed Mathieu Beaudoin in the left face-off circle, but Bulldogs goaltender Curtis Sanford stopped Beaudoin’s backhander. The rebound slid out to Benn in front and he chipped it over a fallen defender and past Sanford for the game-winner at 5:52 of OT.
“I think it was a good play by Peters there to keep the puck in and he made a good pass to Beauds there and I just kind of got the rebound,” said Benn, who also scored in overtime to beat Chicago in Game 7 of the Conference Semi-finals. “We seem to be playing pretty well in overtime, we just keep doing the same things and keep getting some victories.”
The Stars are now 4-2 in overtime in the playoffs and a stellar 6-1 on home ice.
“It’s always good when the fans are behind you, and they definitely were there tonight, and we can definitely feed off of that,” said Benn, who scored 22 goals and 41 points with Dallas this season before joining Texas for the playoffs.
Another key to the triumph for the Stars was a stellar performance from netminder Matt Climie, who sparkled in making 26 saves.
“I’m just keeping it simple,” said Climie, who stepped into the crease in Game 6 of the Chicago series after original starter Brent Krahn went down with an injury. “When I’m not overplaying shots and when I’m relaxed and poised in net, I feel like I’m bigger and I make a lot of saves look easy, so it’s important that I kind of take a step back and be more patient in net and let the puck come to me, instead of being aggressive and getting out of position.”
Trailing 1-0 entering the final period, the Stars struck quickly to even the score, as Benn notched his first of the night just 24 seconds in. After Andrew Hutchinson’s shot from the point deflected off Colton Sceviour
in the slot, the puck rolled to a wide open Benn off to the left side, and he buried it into the empty side of the net.
Benn almost set up the go-ahead goal just 1:35 later when he fed a quick pass out from behind the net, but Sanford made a nice stop on Travis Morin
’s one-timer from in front.
Texas continued to pelt Sanford with shots, with two outstanding opportunities coming at 8:25, but Sanford denied Ray Sawada’s backhander in front and then Peters’ point-blank rebound chance.
Through the first 10 minutes of the third, Texas built up an 11-3 edge in shots, but the Stars were again unable to cash in on a power play when Grant Stevenson was sent off for interference with 7:09 left.
When Stevenson came out of the penalty box, he received a long lead pass that sent him in on a breakaway with 4:57 left in regulation. Stars defenseman Dan Jancevski made a tremendous play to save a possible goal by chasing Stevenson down from behind and diving to poke the puck away just as Stevenson was about to shoot.
“We got caught there a little bit,” Gulutzan acknowledged. “We knew that guy was coming out, he got in behind us and good thing Janny’s 6-4 with a long stick. It was a great play.”
Texas enjoyed a strong opening period, earning three power plays over the first 11-plus minutes, but were unable to convert, despite several solid scoring chances. In the process, they prevented Hamilton from registering a shot on goal until the 9:31 mark, when Climie stopped former Dallas Stars property Shawn Belle’s blast from the point.
The best Texas opportunity during that stretch was generated by Benn with 9:05 left in the period, who used a couple of dazzling moves to work his way into the slot before firing a wrist shot that Sanford turned aside.
Hamilton began to push back after that, but Climie was ready for the pressure, turning aside Gabriel Dumont’s point-blank wrist shot from the left face-off circle with 8:25 remaining.
With Hamilton on a 4-on-3 power play early in the second, Climie came up with a huge glove grab on Brock Trotter’s point-blank backhander at 1:35, and at the other end of the ice, Sanford returned the favor at 4:11 with an impressive glove snag of Aaron Gagnon’s uncontested wrist shot from the high slot.
The Bulldogs snapped the scoreless tie at 8:56 on a power play of their own, on David Desharnais’ eighth goal of the playoffs. After receiving a pass down low on the left side of the net, Desharnais swept in front for a close-in shot that Climie denied, but Desharnais followed up the rebound and jammed it through.
“They scored kind of a questionable goal on the power play,” Climie said. “It’s one of those goals that’s kind of an ugly play around the crease, but I didn’t let it get to me too much and just moved forward from there and keep the team in it. I didn’t want us to fall down two goals, because Hamilton’s such a good defensive team, it would be tough to come back.”
Texas nearly tied it up with 4:14 left in the second when Benn intercepted an errant Hamilton pass at center ice and raced in on a breakaway. Benn made a move to his backhand, but Sanford, a former NHL backup in Vancouver last season, made the stop.
So with Game 5 here at the Cedar Park Center Saturday night, the Stars hope to take advantage of their final home game of the series before having to head back to Hamilton for Game 6 on Monday.
“Home ice has certainly helped us,” Gulutzan said. “We played better here than we did in Hamilton. Tomorrow’s going to be a big game for us, but certainly the crowd and the momentum, it gives you a little extra energy and at this time of year, that little extra is huge.”STARGAZING
- Home teams are now 13-7 in overtime so far this season in the AHL playoffs.
- In addition to leading the AHL post-season with 13 goals, Benn also has 21 points, which ranks him second in the league, just one back of Hershey’s Chris Bourque. Benn also led all players in this contest with six shots on goal.
- Probably the only negative point for the Stars in this one was that their power play struggled, going 0-for-7 on the night. “Our power play was very lackluster and I think if we could have had a little better power play, we could have had a better result,” Gulutzan said. “They’ve got a good penalty kill, they did a great job.”