Special teams made its mark in the Dallas Stars’ return to the ice Thursday after the NHL’s Olympic break.
While the Stars’ power play was given many chances, it wasn’t the man-advantage that gave the Stars the 4-1 victory over Carolina.
Brenden Dillon and Jamie Benn both scored short-handed goals, thanks to some nifty moves.
After Dallas took a 1-0 lead on a goal by Tyler Seguin in the first period, Dillon pulled in a loose puck in the Stars’ offensive zone, then after a skillful toe drag, fired a wrister past Carolina goalie Anton Khudobin three minutes after the first goal.
Canadian gold medalist and Stars captain Jamie Benn scored the second short-handed goal for a 3-0 lead. After muscling his way through two defenders, Benn found himself on a breakaway. As he approached Khudobin, he deked to the backhand and slipped the puck past the goaltender’s outstretched right pad.
Benn played a key role on Team Canada’s penalty kill in Sochi, and it showed Thursday.
“The more penalties you kill, the more comfortable you are with it,” Benn said. “I’ve got quite a bit of penalty killing time lately and a lot more tonight. I feel comfortable. Our group did a great job on the kill tonight and we’ll keep building off that.”
Beyond scoring his 23rd goal of the season, Benn also assisted on goals by Seguin and Dillon.
It was the first time since March 16, 2010 that the Stars scored two short-handed goals in one game — by Mike Ribeiro and Brenden Morrow against San Jose. The franchise record is three, set in 1988.
Carolina managed a goal early in the third quarter when Eric Staal found an opening though Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen with a tough angled shot.
However, with 55 seconds remaining in the game, Cody Eakin wristed in an empty-net goal to seal the Stars’ victory.
While the penalty kill flourished for the Stars, the power play had trouble gaining traction, as Carolina was able to kill off seven penalties for a total of 12:52 seconds of man-advantage hockey for the Stars. In that time Dallas put up 14 shots.
Lehtonen picked up his 23rd win of the season, fending off 29 of 30 Carolina shots. Dallas edged Carolina in shots on goal, 34-30.
Dallas put itself in the final wild card spot in the Western Conference with a win over Phoenix as the Olympic break began and Benn said he is perfectly happy being in the driver’s seat potentially to the Stars’ first playoff berth in five seasons.
“It’s a situation we want to be in,” Benn said. “We don’t want to be looking at the scoreboards after games and hoping teams lose or hoping teams win. It’s up to us in here. We put ourselves in a good situation.”