Losing the way the Dallas Stars did in Game 2 of their first-round series against the Nashville Predators must sting. After all, they were a shot away from stealing the game and going back home up two games. Now facing a best-of-five series after the 2-1 overtime loss, they and their fans can at least take away a few positives from what is suddenly a less-than-ideal situation. The most notable of which is the goal by captain Jamie Benn.
Benn Scores First in 10 Games
Benn scored the game-opening goal in the second-period. It obviously didn’t hold up, but the hope is it got the monkey off his back, seeing as he hadn’t scored in 10 games dating back to a 4-2 victory over the Florida Panthers on Mar. 19.
It’s been a season to forget overall for Benn, whose production has taken a nosedive, relative to his performance in the recent past. His 53 points represent his lowest production since his 2009-10 rookie season when he had 41. Whereas that campaign may have been a pleasant surprise in the eyes of many, fast-forward a decade during which Benn has established himself as one of the game’s premier power forwards.
Benn vs. Lites
Considering over the previous five or so seasons he’s effectively been a point-per-game player, 20018-19 has been letdown. Just ask Stars CEO Jim Lites, who let his disappointment in the play of both Benn and Tyler Seguin be known in controversial comments last December.
Benn had the right response to the media, saying he would have preferred Lites talked to him directly instead of airing his grievances publicly and that he instead plays for the guys in the room and not individual high-level executives. On the ice, you could argue it was a different matter.
While the Stars as a whole turned their season around, going 24-16-4 down the stretch, Benn actually struggled from a production standpoint to a greater extent. Before Lites called him and Seguin out, he had 30 points (15 goals) in 38 games. In the 40 remaining games he played, he managed just 12 goals and 23 points.
Compared to Seguin, who rebounded from his own slow start to post his second-career 80-point season, Benn failed to silence his doubters. And, yet, here the Stars are, in the postseason, after two consecutive non-playoff seasons.
Benn’s Stars Return to Playoffs
In some ways, Benn’s Game 2, even if it turned out to be a loss, was more significant than the last game of the 2014-15 regular season, when he scored four points, including a hat trick, to secure the Art Ross Trophy. That turned out to be another non-playoff year for Benn, who has only made the playoffs three times in six seasons since being named captain.
That’s the real disappointment here or, more accurately, Benn’s shot at vindication, now that they’re back. With his goal and assist in the first two games of the series, Benn has continued to produce at an above-average rate in the playoffs, when it matters most. He has 22 points in 21 career playoff games, a point-per-game clip that would tie him with Guy Lafleur for 22nd in history. He just doesn’t rank due to the small sample size. If he were to make a dent in that regard this spring, no one would be able to hold this season against him.
A long postseason run would reinforce the fact Benn continues to be the right man to lead this team. Sure, following a Vezina Trophy-caliber season, Ben Bishop is clearly the man in nets and Miro Heiskanen is developing into a top-end defenseman faster than expected.
Meanwhile, up front, following his sensational second half, Seguin has re-affirmed why the Stars deemed it necessary to award him an eight-year deal that will pay him nearly $10 million on average. While Benn is getting paid $9.5 million on average in turn and a return to form during the regular season would be nice, the return to the playoffs, assuming it turns into a long run, should suffice, especially if he’s leading the charge.
Don’t forget, the Stars did manage to win one on the road, stealing home-ice advantage in the series. So, there’s every reason to believe the Stars can still win.
The Stars may not have really deserved to win Game 2, getting outshot 42-23, but at least three of those shots belonged to Benn. If he’s going, at least the Stars have more of one themselves, which is saying something. Benn may be the silver lining of the Game 2 loss for the Stars, but earning the silence of his critics with a long playoff run would be golden. There’s a long way to go in that regard, but, all in all, he and the Stars are off to a nice start.
After 10 years of writing hockey, Ryan decided it was as good a time as any to actually join The Hockey Writers for the 2014-15 season. Having appeared as a guest on such programs as CBC Radio One’s Daybreak, Ryan has written for such publications as the Montreal Gazette and Bleacher Report and worked for the NHL itself and his hometown Montreal Canadiens. He currently covers the Habs for THW as a columnist.