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Stars use defense to create offense in OT win over Lightning

Dallas forces Tampa Bay to fight for every inch of ice, then finishes with some vintage Benn magic

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

DALLAS -- The scoring blame game can be vicious sport for Stars fans.

Did management make the right moves in bringing in the right scorers?

Does the coaching staff give players the opportunity to post decent numbers?

 

[WATCH: All highlights from Stars' overtime win over Lightning]

 

Do the players convert when they get great chances?

It's a rolling game of Three-card Monte played both on barstools and the ice, and it probably heated up quite a bit after Dallas lost 7-0 to Minnesota and then took an eight-day hiatus from games last week for the midseason break.

Video: TBL@DAL: Benn wins it in overtime for Stars

But maybe Monday's 3-2 overtime victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning at American Airlines Center is a prime example of how this can work. Maybe, the answers to all three questions lie somewhere in the 63 minutes of hockey that unfolded before your eyes.

Jamie Benn made two amazing sleight-of-hand plays and scored two amazing goals. Denis Gurianov showed that his mitts can keep up with his lightning-fast feet and tallied another (the 12th of his rookie season). And that was enough for the Stars to beat one of the best teams in the NHL.

Oh sure, Dallas set the table for this magic act with the defensive base that forced Tampa Bay (29-15-5) to fight for every inch of ice it could get, but the plays you'll remember are those extravagant, fanciful, all-too-rare goals.

The funny thing is … there could have been more.

Mattias Janmark had some great chances, so did Joe Pavelski. Jason Dickinson had six shots on goal, Tyler Seguin had six shot attempts. For all of their offensive frustration, the Stars do seem to create opportunities at key times. Bowness said as much before and after the break. The team is talking internally about scoring all of the time, and it truly believes the answers are in house.

Video: TBL@DAL: Benn leads by example in Stars' overtime win

There is a belief that Seguin and Benn and Pavelski and Gurianov and Roope Hintz and Dickinson and Radek Faksa have the ability to score. There is a belief, as fans ponder just what offensive talent might be available before the Feb. 24 trade deadline, that there are plenty of scorers right here.

Seguin had 40 goals two years ago. Benn had 36 that season. Radulov tallied 29 last year. Pavelski had 38. Heck, Janmark had 19 two seasons ago, Faksa had 17, and Blake Comeau had 13. Now, some of that was on different teams and all of it was with different coaches, but there is history there.

 

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There is something there.

On Benn's first goal, he slipped through the neutral zone, dangled the puck at the end of his stick, then pulled it back and patiently waited to slip a backhand past Vezina Trophy-winning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy. It was a beautiful display of the skill that has helped Benn push up to fourth all-time on the franchise scoring list. On the game-winner in overtime, Benn knocked a puck out of the air, fought off a check, and deked his way past Vasilevskiy during one of the most pressure-filled moments of the game.

It was a beautiful reminder of what the 30-year-old is capable of.

Video: TBL@DAL: Benn beats Vasilevskiy on breakaway

"Great athletes have the mental skills," Stars interim coach Rick Bowness said of Benn's calm at key moments. "A lot of guys would get there and their mind would be going a million miles an hour, but great athletes have the ability to slow the game down in their mind and take what's there.

"I think Jamie did a great job of being composed on both goals and hanging on to it until just the right second before putting it behind him. That's a mental skill. The physical skill you can see, but the mental side of that, being able to calm the brain down and slow it down so that the hands can work at the right time, that's what makes special athletes."

Now, even with those two goals, Benn still has just 25 points on the season and is on pace for his worst scoring card since he tallied 41 points as a rookie in 2009-10. Benn had 79 points just two seasons ago and 89 in 2015-16. So, yes, he has a lot of ground to make up.

But do games like Monday's make you believe there is chance we see that guy again? Do performances like that allow just a little bit of hope to slip into the discussion?

Well, you can say these three things:

Video: TBL@DAL: Bowness praises Stars efforts in crunch time

1. The Stars really do play good team defense and can frustrate even the best offensive teams in the league.

2. They do use that defense to create great scoring chances.

3. Their goaltending will almost always give them the opportunity to make sure that cashing in on just a few of those chances can make a difference.

If they add goals to that, well, they would be pretty tough to play against.

The Stars are now 12-6-4 in one-goal games, including 6-2 in overtime. They are the top defensive team in the league with the best save percentage, and they don't want to stray too far from that base.

Video: TBL@DAL: Gurianov races past defender and scores

"I think that's pretty much our game," Benn said when asked about defense leading to offense. "We want to play good defense and we are committed to keeping the puck out of our net, and that was a good example of it tonight."

As for having the presence to bury his two chances, Benn just shrugged.

"I mean, that's just how it goes," he said. "As long as we stick with it -- stick with our game plan, our details -- that gives us the best chance to win, and that's what we did tonight."

 

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Goalie Ben Bishop allowed two goals on 25 shots and pushed his record to 17-10-3. He said he believes in the offensive players on this roster.

"Absolutely, these guys in here have that fire power," Bishop said. "Any moment he can come out, and tonight was a perfect example. Jamie has been doing a lot of things for this team that don't necessarily get the recognition night in and night out -- big hits, fighting guys, he's been doing a lot of good things. It's nice to see him get rewarded tonight with the goals because he's been playing really good for us, and it's just good to see him get some goals."

Video: TBL@DAL: Bishop comes up big for Stars in tight win

Now, fans still have plenty of questions to ponder, like: Why was the power play so terrible Monday? How will the team respond to possible injuries to Roope Hintz (day-to-day with an upper-body injury) and Andrew Cogliano (day-to-day with a lower-body injury)? And what happened that allowed the Lightning to tie the game with the extra attacker?

Those cards can get tossed on the table and shuffled around in a six- or nine-card Monte, but let's just focus on the three that we started with. Maybe, just maybe, management, coaches and players can all work together. Maybe they're capable of pulling off a few more of these fantastic card tricks.

You have 33 more chances to see just what this team is capable of, how they can shuffle the cards on a pretty important season. But if you wanted to believe that you are figuring things out, then Monday's game could be held up as a shining example.

"Most of that offense came from good defense," Bowness said. "We didn't give up much, but we created a lot."

And that really is the trick to all of this.

Don't miss your chance to see the Stars take on the Toronto Maple Leafs at American Airlines Center on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. Get your tickets now!

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.

Mike Heika is a Senior Staff Writer for DallasStars.com and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika, and listen to his podcast.

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