The playoff pressure was dialed up Thursday night at Rogers Arena.

With the Dallas Stars and Vancouver Canucks atop the West and each looking to clinch a berth in the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs, you could feel the anticipation of the postseason. Dallas did the clinching in the end, breaking open a tie game late in the third period en route to a 3-1 win. The victory clinched a playoff spot for the Stars, pushed their winning streak to a season-high six straight games, and built a ton of confidence in the process.

“That’s six months of hard work starting in training camp in a really tough, competitive league with a lot of parity and a lot of good teams,” Stars coach Pete DeBoer said. “It took a lot of heavy lifting to get to this point to be playing in an important game with nine games left. We talked about it. Where else would you want to be than playing for first place in the conference down the stretch?”

The Stars move to 46-19-9 (101 points). They sit ahead of Colorado in the Central Division and ahead of both the Avalanche and Canucks for first place in the conference. That’s a great place to be as they try to get their game in a good place ahead of the playoffs. Right now, it’s in a great spot as Dallas is 11-2-0 in its past 13 games.

Pete DeBoer on the emotional finish to the game

And while a number of those wins were against non-playoff teams, the match against the Canucks was the real deal. Dallas has struggled against Vancouver in recent years and the Canucks have been a buzzsaw at home. But the Stars played a disciplined defensive game, got solid goaltending from Jake Oettinger and received timely goals from Roope Hintz, Jamie Benn and Jason Robertson.

Benn was the key player, as the native of nearby Victoria assisted on the first power play goal and then scored the game-winner late in the third period on the man advantage. Benn took a pass from Joe Pavelski and zipped in his seventh goal as part of a six-game goal streak (which ties a career-high) to give the Stars a 2-1 lead.

The assist was his 900th career point, the goal was 901. That’s a nice feather in the cap of a player who has done it all in a Dallas uniform.

Benn deflected praise as he always does, but it was clear the joy of the win was huge for him.

“He’s such a selfless player and you rarely see that emotion out of him,” DeBoer said. “You could see how important that goal was for him, especially here. It was great to see.”

Oettinger said Benn’s teammates certainly feel the pride in his accomplishments.

“It’s a huge deal,” Oettinger said. “He’s the worst guy in the world to take a compliment, but even if he doesn’t care, we’re all happy for him. He’s a special player and the leader for this group. He probably had a lot of family here, so to get a dub in this building is a great night for him.”

Jake Oettinger speaks to the media after the win

The play also had some nice threads running through it. The refs were unpredictable for much of the night, but Wyatt Johnston drove the net to earn a high-sticking penalty and give Dallas the man advantage. Then, a Stars team that had struggled in the faceoff circle for much of the night got a huge win from Benn to create possession and help set up the play.

Dallas was 7-20 in the first two periods and that really made it tough to create the possession it needed. The Stars are one of the top faceoff teams in the league, so there was clear disappointment from the head coach.

“Pete let us know,” Benn said. “We kind of know throughout the game if we’re doing good or doing bad, but Pete let us know that we needed to step it up. I thought we won a few more, it makes a big difference.”

DeBoer said his team has done a good job all year at understanding what needs to be done.

“It’s an honest group,” he said. “They accept coaching and they know when they’re falling short in an area and they dig in and that’s what we did tonight.”

And that’s one of the reasons this victory is so big. Yes, beating the Canucks is huge. Yes, putting yourself in prime position to contend for the Presidents’ Trophy is massive. But a team starts out with some pretty lofty goals in September, and when you reach one, you need to acknowledge it.

“I’ve been in the league long enough to know it’s really hard to make the playoffs,” DeBoer said. “It’s really hard to secure home ice. You have to do a lot of hard work starting six or seven months ago to give yourself the opportunity to be one of those 16 teams. I’m just proud of our group.”

Jamie Benn on being better on face-offs in the third

The game also shows where the team is right now. Dallas had a 34-28 edge in shots on goal, a 73-61 advantage in shot attempts, and 10 more quality scoring chances. That’s a sign they definitely earned the win.

Oettinger stopped 27 of 28 to win his fourth straight. All in all, it was a very positive night.

“We’re trying to win the Presidents’ Trophy, and it’s not every year you can say you’re trying to win the Presidents’ Trophy,” Oettinger said.

And the team seems to embrace that challenge.

“We want to win as many games as we can going into the playoffs,” DeBoer said. “I like how we’re playing. We’ve got eight games left and if that results in a Presidents’ Trophy, fantastic. If it doesn’t, and our game stays in the same place, we’re comfortable playing against anybody.”

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.

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