There's a moment in Brenden Morrow's very emotional retirement speech when the former captain mentions Jamie Benn. Keep in mind that Morrow has already gone through a list of meaningful names. And he's fighting back tears the whole way through. Smack dab in the middle of a wistful but sincere hymn to Stars history is Morrow relaying his fandom to Benn.
I don't know if Benn expected it, but knowing Benn as a fan, I got chills. Chills because Benn has been a clutch performer in the past. Whether in the playoffs at the level of the NHL, AHL, the Olympics or his Art Ross night, he's never at a loss for self motivation. But extra motivation? I had a hunch that Jamie, ever the red light performer, might have a good game. And did he ever...
1. Highlanders of Victory Green
Morrow had always been one of my favorite players for the Dallas Stars. There's just no substitute for the hockey player whose precision matches their percussion; skilled, yes, but as barbaric as their ancestors intended. Needless to say, Jamie Benn accepting a Connor MacLeod like transfer of powers from Morrow couldn't be more fitting.
Puck luck goes the Stars way. Spezza scores despite not shooting. 4 kids now at home,11 goals in 12 games. Spez produces on and off the ice— Bruce LeVine (@BruceLeVinePuck) March 18, 2016
After Kucherov scored to Tampa (thanks to an awful Cody Eakin pass who Ruff wisely benched briefly as a result), Jason Spezza would answer with a completely accidental goal thanks to the Murphy's Law of bouncing pucks. Spezza is warming up for the playoffs to be sure, so as Sam Jackson would say, 'hold on to your butts'. The other performance of note was the sheer animus on display. When I think of grimy, physical teams, the Lightning are not first on my list but boy were they initiating.
The Stars had killed 21 straight opposition power plays up until that Stamkos goal.— Mark Stepneski (@StarsInsideEdge) March 18, 2016
Tampa had the coldest PP in the league, on the road, so naturally they beat the hottest Power Play in the league of March. Stop acting surprised. It's called regression to the mean ladies and germs! Steven Stamkos did some Steven Stamkos things, much to the delight of a media that doesn't deserve him.
4. Snake PlissSpin
This entire sequence by Jamie Benn pic.twitter.com/H2bA7Q07xJ— Kyle WIIM (@KyleWIIM) March 18, 2016
No words here. Only mouths agape.
Tampa would take the lead in the 2nd thanks to a collectively bad effort by the Spezza line coupled with the Kris Russell, Alex Goligoski pair. The two defenders in particular made some glaring errors. Especially here:
They sat there on the wrong side of Kucherov for what felt like an eternity. There was plenty of blame to go around, granted, but the two defenders have had plenty of off moments where their communication just isn't where it should be. If Jamie Benn doesn't go beast mode, I have a feeling Erin and a lot of annoyed fans are laminating this shift for all the wrong reasons. Thankfully Benn would not be without the help of a rookie defensemen.
5. Calder Gnash
Lindy Ruff on Stephen Johns play. Dallas will have tough decision to make. pic.twitter.com/2KiTouaaD7— Sean Shapiro (@seanshapiro) March 18, 2016
Sometimes I think we make too big of a deal of young AHL players making the transition to the NHL. The AHL has its own challenges, like playing with less talented forwards, or defensemen who don't communicate like pros, that sometimes the challenge of more talented opponents is offset by the comfort of more talented teammates. Stephen Johns would finally break through on a sneaky shot down low; his NHL first. It's still a little hard to believe that Johns is basically playing a top 4 role in his 4th NHL game after Jim Nill gave Chicago Rob Scuderi.
6. Torch to Scorch
Jamie Benn would not be outdone by Steven Stamkos, and sure enough, tallied the lead thanks to a clever Cody Eakin pass (making amends for his play earlier in the game). Granted, that's 90 Percent Jamie's backhand, but as there's no reason to trample over a man's ginger grave, sure Eakin, you did good. On to some stray observations
- Cody Eakin had the most exaggerated Eakin game in recent memory. He figured into the scoresheet which was great. Ruff suddenly put a leash on him, which was even better. But a costly turnover, several moments of blown coverage, other turnovers that occurred because he got pick pocketed, and a season's worth of struggles don't suddenly make him a good center for Jamie Benn. Radek Faksa has willed himself into that spot in my opinion.
- See? Just look at this controlled entry data. Make it happen Ruff!
- Kari Lehtonen played an ok game. A little scrambly early on, but seemed to settle down after awhile.
- It's the New York Islanders up next, fresh off a loss to the surging Nashville Predators, who just may throw a wrench in this Stars/Blues/Hawks round robin just yet. If the Hawks continue struggling, and the Preds keep winning, these Western Conference playoffs may be even more bizarre than we assumed.