The Dallas Stars needed a strong start Saturday night and captain Jamie Benn helped provide it, scoring two early goals and assisting on a third as the Stars built a 3-0 lead and went on to defeat the Tampa Bay Lightning, 5-2, to move playing into a playoff position.
Benn scored 40 seconds into the game, tallied again five minutes later and then helped set up a Tyler Seguin goal late in the first period to give the Stars a big lead early.
“It was great to see for Benner. He took charge,” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. “Seguin was right there next to him. They’ve done it all year. You can’t question what [Benn] has been doing for this team and his centerman is next to him on almost every play.”
Although they built a big lead early, the Stars had to weather a storm in the second when the Lightning dominated play and cut the lead to 3-2. But the Stars finished strong, getting goals from Vernon Fiddler and Antoine Roussel in the third to seal the win.
“We had our way in the first, they had their way in the second, we came in here and regrouped and Fiddler’s goal was obviously huge,” said Benn. “It set the tone there and gave us the two-goal lead.”
The win moved the Stars into the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, one point ahead of the Phoenix Coyotes. The Stars have one game in hand, which they will play Sunday evening at the Florida Panthers. Sunday’s game wraps up a stretch of five straight on the road for the Stars, and will be the second game of a stretch that will see them play four games in five nights.
“It’s big,” Ruff said of Saturday’s win. “It’s a tough turnover we’ve got coming. We play at five o’clock (four Central Time) tomorrow, knowing that we’ve got a lot of games in a few days. We’ve got to get all the points you can when you can get them.”
The Stars got another stellar performance from goaltender Kari Lehtonen, who stopped 27 of 29 shots. The major sore spot on the night was the power play, which was 0-5 and missed on five-minute and four-minute opportunities in the game.
“We’ve got to go to the drawing board on the power play,” said Seguin. “We’ll review that and get ready for tomorrow.”
The Stars came out firing on all cylinders, dominating play early and getting the two goals from Benn to take early control of the game. After a Tampa Bay turnover on the first shift of the game, Benn knocked an Alex Goligoski pass into the open side of the net to put the Stars up 1-0 just 40 seconds into the game.
“The first shift of the game can mean a lot, you want to set the tempo right away,” said Benn. “We were fortunate enough to find a way to score a goal there.”
Another Lightning turnover resulted in Benn’s second goal, which he scored from the right circle at the 5:37 mark.
“I wasn’t even sure where the puck was. I thought Fiddler and [Ryan] Garbutt did most of the work there,” Benn said. “I just found it on my stick and tried to get a quick shot. I was lucky enough that it went in.”
Two minutes later the Stars went on a five-minute power play when Tampa Bay defenseman Radko Gudas was given a match penalty for a hit to the head of Stars forward Antoine Roussel, but the Stars couldn’t capitalize and extend the lead. Roussel was shaken up on the play, but did return.
“I didn’t’ see it, but it shook me up a little bit,” Roussel said. “I was waiting to see how I felt. It took me about a minute to get back to normal, and it went well after that.”
The Stars did extend the lead late in the period when Jordie Benn put a shot on net from the point, Seguin kicked the puck from his skate to his stick and then fired it past Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop to put the Stars up 3-0 with 1:34 left in the period.
Tampa Bay got on the board early in the second. Just after their first power play of the game expired, a Steven Stamkos shot from the slot bounced off traffic and trickled by Lehtonen to make it a 3-1 game at the 1:57 mark.
Less than five minutes later Tampa Bay cut the lead to 3-2 when defenseman Andre Sustr pinched in from the point and scored off a rebound at the 6:44 mark.
The Stars had a four-minute power play 12:31 into the period when Ryan Malone caught Seguin with a high stick, but they couldn’t take advantage. The Stars penalty kill came up big a short time later, stopping Tampa Bay on the power play to keep it a 3-2 game.
The Stars extended the lead early in the third when Stamkos turned over the puck near the Lightning net and Fiddler backhanded the puck past Bishop to put the Stars up 4-2 at the 1:26 mark.
They extended the lead to 5-2 at little more than six minutes later when Cody Eakin put a shot on net off the rush, Garbutt dug the puck out as Bishop tried to cover it and Roussel put into the net at the 7:57 mark sealing the win for the Stars, who held Tampa Bay to just five shots in the third period.
“What we talked about after the second is we won the first, they won the second and now it is time to make a statement that we belong and we are going to win the battles,” said Ruff. “We are going to take it to them, we’re not going to sit on it.
“As confident as you can be about a team playing a good period, you want to see them go out and do it. They did it.”
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on DallasStars.com reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.