- Greg Wyshynski is ESPN’s senior NHL writer.
DALLAS — After receiving a two-game suspension in the Western Conference finals, Dallas Stars forward Jamie Benn thought his season might be over.
The Stars lost Game 3 to go down 3-0 to the Vegas Golden Knights, the same contest in which Benn cross-checked Mark Stone in the jaw to earn a first-period game misconduct and subsequent two-game ban. But the Stars won the next two games without Benn, giving their captain a chance to return for Game 6 on Monday night in Dallas (8 ET, ESPN).
“I was praying we were going to play two solid games just to get another chance and another kick at it here. I’m really proud of the guys,” said Benn, who was the first player to hit the ice for practice. “It sucks watching, especially in playoffs. The guys had two gutsy efforts. Character wins and a lot of confidence in this room.”
Benn has 11 points in 16 games for the Stars, including three goals.
The Stars used Benn’s absence as a rallying cry to push the series to six games. It was reminiscent of their first-round win over the Minnesota Wild, when they vowed to keep playing in the postseason until Joe Pavelski could return from his Game 1 injury.
“We didn’t want the season for him to end like that,” Stars forward Radek Faksa said. “We talked about Pav’s injury and how we wanted to get him back in the series. We talked about the same thing with Jamie — that we have to do anything to get him back in the series. And we did.”
To a man, the Stars have said they weren’t disappointed that Benn earned a five-minute major and a game misconduct just 1 minute, 53 seconds into Game 3. They saw it as an overly aggressive mistake from a player who was amped up for a critical home game.
“Listen, what happened with Jamie … he’s not a suspension-a-month guy. He plays a physical, clean game all the time. He crossed the line one night. It’s a nonissue,” Stars coach Peter DeBoer said. “I don’t think it’s fair to paint him with that brush based on one incident. He’s always been a clean, physical, intimidating player. And he’s going to jump right back into that [tonight].”
Asked if he might have to control his emotions in another critical home game, Benn answered: “Probably.”
It’s expected Benn will play on a line with rookie Wyatt Johnston. Forward Evgenii Dadonov will miss Game 6 with a lower-body injury, and there is an expectation that forward Ty Dellandrea could be slotted with Benn and Johnston, although the Golden Knights were preparing for the possibility that it could be Tyler Seguin joining that line.
“I don’t think it’ll change really much, right? Obviously, I’m sure he’ll be excited to play. Nobody likes sitting, especially in the playoffs, so I’m sure he’ll be excited to get back,” said Stone, Vegas’ captain. “But I don’t think it changes really any dynamic of the game. One team is trying to fight to move on, and one team is fighting to stay alive and force a Game 7.”
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