It was hard to know what kind of a game we were going to see coming out of a nearly three-week Olympic layoff for the Dallas Stars as the Carolina Hurricanes came a'calling.
Anything was possible. Like two shorthanded goals?
On a night when the notoriously stingy Hurricanes handed the Stars seven power play chances to the tune of nearly 13 minutes of clock, it was the exploits of Jamie Benn while killing penalties than proved the difference. Benn assisted on Brenden Dillon's first-period shorty and then added one of his own in spectacular fashion late in the second period to propel the Stars to victory.
Kari Lehtonen stopped 29 of 30 in a solid outing opposite an impressive Anton Khudobin, who was tasked with 34 Dallas shots in the loss. The win puts the Stars back in eighth place over the Phoenix Coyotes, who, in very Coyote-like fashion, earned themselves a point in a shootout loss this evening.
Sloppy at times, but entertaining to say the least. Welcome back, Dallas Stars hockey.
Would there be rust? Yes. But there were also goals. Valeri Nichushkin wafted into the Carolina zone on his backhand and sent a beauty of a pass across to Tyler Seguin, who made no mistake in giving the Stars a 1-0 lead just three minutes in.
Three minutes after that, thanks to a Cody Eakin delay-of-game, Jamie Benn charged into the Carolina zone with the puck on his stick and lost it, affording a trailing Brenden Dillon an opportunity with speed which he deftly negotiated through the slot before beating Khudobin for the shorthanded goal and a 2-0 lead.
Each team would end the frame with 11 shots
Carolina's less-than-charitable habits where affording opponents power plays are concerned continued to be disproved with an Eric Staal cross-check to start things off, but Dallas could not generate, and the game fell into a bit of a sloppy back and forth.
A Jamie Benn "interference penalty" gave the Hurricanes life midway through the second period but the Stars killed the penalty and the return to a general malaise (Brandon and I watched a guy "vaping" in section 312, as if to underscore this point) continued.
The Stars looked in danger of being lulled to sleep with the always perilous two-goal lead but Kari Lehtonen was there on occasion when they needed him, and an Carolina's fourth minor penalty of the game tipped possession pack in Dallas' favor late in the frame until Ray Whitney gave them another chance.
That's when Jamie Benn took one for himself, slicing through the Hurricane's defense like, to quote Razor, "poop through a  goose", to beat Khudobin shorthanded once more and extend the lead to three.
That livened things up quite a bit.
Jordie Benn attempted to set his brother up on another "Jamie Benn power play" in the opening seconds of the third period, but things took a turn. Eric Staal scored from a severe angle through a leaky Kari Lehtonen as the Hurricanes surged past the Stars in shot count.
And Jamie Benn went to the locker room just before that.
Still, all the Stars had to do was hang and not make any mistakes. Then Antoine Roussel happened, steamrolling the Carolina netminder and starting quite a scene in the process, not to mention bloodying his face quite spectacularly. The result would be a three minute power play for Carolina.
But the Stars didn't corner the market on stupid in the sequence, and Tuomu Ruutu took a minor, giving the Stars a mini-power play before the Carolina advantage. Not wanting to be left out, Ryan Garbutt then took a minor for unsportsmanlike conduct. And it was hard to keep track of anything at that point.
Killing the penalty settled the Stars, and they dominated scoring chances the rest of the way while Carolina continued their uncharacteristic conga line to the box, surging back ahead in the shots on goal department, and many more misses as the clock wound down.
Cody Eakin sealed it with the empty-netter "Taco" goal.
*Two shorthanded breakaways for Jamie Benn, one goal. He was used on the penalty kill sparingly to start the season, albeit with Tyler Seguin, and that experiment did not last long. Benn killed penalties with Team Canada and Lindy Ruff was there to orchestrate it. He came right back to it tonight, pairing Benn with Peverley and it paid dividends throughout. We'll see if they can keep that going.
*Things got a little testy when Jamie Benn and Tuomu Ruutu were going after a puck in the corner, evenly and simultaneously, and the officials overreacted at a clean hockey play when Benn wouldn't get out of Ruutu's way and send him off with a kind word. What was Benn supposed to do? Just step aside? Ridiculous call.
*Antoine Roussel can't do that. We've said it before. He can't do that. He left himself no out with so much speed, even if the Hurricane player did contact him. It was a reckless play and the league wants to get that out of the game. A fine is not out of the question, in this fan's opinion, but I could be way off base.
*Tough to say with just 14 minutes of ice time, but Alex Chiasson did look refreshed and engaged with six shot attempts and a couple of pretty close ones. That allowed Ruff to spread his minutes out pretty evenly throughout the forward group, and it was the Fiddler line that actually saw the least burn when it was all said and done.
*The Hurricanes are not very good. The Stars will have to be better on Saturday, and in an early afternoon contest, no less. But good win to get back into 8th.
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