Dallas Stars captain Jamie Benn had a quiet game on Monday night.
Sure, a "quiet game" for Benn, relatively speaking, is any game where he doesn't casually go full Kool-Aid Man on the opposing team's defenses. But Game 6 against the St. Louis Blues was especially uncharacteristic for him: no shots, one hit, a -1 rating and awful possession numbers. He did register an assist, but it was a secondary assist and it came on Jason Spezza's powerplay goal.
Benn, last year's Art Ross-winner and one of this year's finalists for the Hart Memorial Trophy as the NHL's most valuable player, was effectively neutralized this game by the top defensive players on one of the league's top defensive teams.
And yet, with their backs against the wall, their season on the line and their best player disarmed, the Stars nevertheless forged a dramatic 3-2 victory, preserving their Stanley Cup hopes and forcing a decisive Game 7 back home in Dallas on Wednesday night.
Now, all of this isn't meant to harp on Benn. He is, after all, the team's best player, and his postseason play has been instrumental in getting the Stars to this point in the first place.
But the fact that the Stars were able to produce the win in such a dire situation without him playing a significant part, that the rest of the roster stuck together behind him, just goes to show how far Dallas has come as a team.
Kari Lehtonen stole the show in Game 6, stopping 35 out of 37 shots, but he certainly didn't do it alone. Grizzled veteran Vernon Fiddler had a goal, a nice present for his 36th birthday. Rookie Mattias Janmark scored a beautiful breakaway goal on a perfect feed from the recently-struggling Valeri Nichushkin. Colton Sceviour, in his first game back on the ice after watching on helplessly as a healthy scratch, chipped in with two big assists.
It wasn't a pretty game, with the Blues dominating the puck and coming at the Stars with the force of a runaway freight train, but Dallas, to the very last man, gritted their teeth, hung on with all their might and found a way to get the job done.
Just like they have all playoffs.
While players like Benn, Lehtonen and Spezza have garnered much of the spotlight for Dallas in this postseason it cannot be understated just how much other players on the team, from top to bottom, have contributed at key times.
Antoine Roussel' goal and gamesmanship frustrating the Blues in Game 1. Cody Eakin scoring the overtime winner in Game 4. Antti Niemi stopping 28 shots in Game 4 in the series against the Minnesota Wild. All playoffs long, when Dallas' most notable players haven't been able to provide the heroics the teammates behind them have been able to step up and fill in.
With such little margin for error in the playoffs that sort of depth is so, so crucial. Where might the New York Islanders be right now if John Tavares had more support? How far could the Florida Panthers have gone if the rest of the team rallied around Roberto Luongo?
All of this is made even more remarkable by the fact that Tyler Seguin, the other half of the Stars' Wonder Twins and one of the best players in the world, hasn't even been mentioned yet. It's nothing short of amazing that the Stars, who have received 234 points in 223 regular season games from their dynamic young 1st line center over the past three regular seasons, have done all of this and gotten this far without him (he did play the one game against Minnesota, of course, but was still not 100%).
No matter what challenges have been thrown at them this season, and there have been many, one thing that you can't say about the Stars is that they ever lost faith in each other.
It's been mentioned numerous times before by players, coaches, management and local media, but there truly is something special about what the Dallas Stars have going on right now in their locker room. One of the biggest reasons why they've come this far is because this group of 20-some individual hockey players genuinely care about one another and have come together to work as a tight-knit unit.
The recent Shania Twain escapades that have come to the front and center in the media and showcased this family-like atmosphere to the world are the perfect icing on the cake.
Following Monday night's victory Sportsnet's Mark Spector was in the Stars locker room, chatting with the players and absorbing the jovial atmosphere.
"We have fun, we’ve had a great year together," Spezza said. "We have great chemistry in this room and we want to keep playing together. This team genuinely likes being around each other. We didn’t want to go home tonight."
Neither did we, Jason. Neither did we.