Despite his team missing the playoffs for the sixth time in seven years, Jamie Benn of the Dallas Stars wrote a season ending finale that will be part of hockey lore for decades to come.
Benn, the team captain, became the first player in franchise history to win the NHL’s Art Ross Trophy as the league’s scoring leader. And he did not only befitting a Hollywood script, but also without linemate Tyler Seguin ( who was late to a practice on Friday and, per team rules, was a healthy scratch for the season finale).
In front of a sellout crowd at American Airlines Center on Fan Appreciation Night, Benn assisted on a Cody Eakins Goal with just under nine seconds left in what would be a 4-1 victory over the Predators to record his 87th point and edge the Islanders’ John Tavares, who would’ve captured the Art Ross Trophy in a tiebreaker. The point culminated a three-game spurt in which Benn erupted for five goals and 10 points after the Stars had been eliminated from playoff contention by Winnipeg’s 2-0 victory in Minnesota the previous Monday.
Benn’s dramatic trophy capture was also significant in that his point total is the lowest to lead the league since Gordie Howe’s 86 in 1962-63, and is the second lowest points per game total (1.06) in NHL history behind the hardware’s first winner, Montreal’s Elmer Lach (1.02) in 1947-48. Lach passed away on April 4 at the age of 97.
Prior to his last-second heroics, Benn had completed a three-goal hat trick – the second of his career — by lighting the lamp at 7:25 and 13:33 of the first period, then hitting the empty Nashville net with 2:05 left in regulation.
Over the last dozen games of the season, Benn scored 23 points to reignite the Stars, who captured 14 of their final 19 games in a feverish attempt to make the playoffs.
“(Winning the scoring title) felt good….it’s still bittersweet because we’re not in the playoffs,” said Benn, who played most of the season with bad hips that warranted injections during the season and will require surgery. “It’s pretty special to see your teammates work so hard for you just to get an individual award.
“I was obviously still trying to get another point,” added Benn, a fifth round draft choice (129th overall) in 2007 who is the lowest drafted player to win the Art Ross Trophy. “If it happened, it happened but if it didn’t, it didn’t. Trevor (Daley) made a great play to Eakin and he found a way to get it in the net. Obviously I have to thank my teammates for what’s happened. (They) gave up a lot tonight (trying to get the puck to Benn) and over the last couple of months, and the whole year. For me to get to get to the top of the scoring lead and I have to thank them.”
Benn maintained that It was painful to look back over the season in which his team struggled and succeeded, but did not qualify for the post-season. “The number one goal here is to make the playoffs and just give yourself a chance to win a Stanley Cup (but) we didn’t do that this year,” said Benn, whose 35 goals, 52 assists and 87 points are all career highs. “It’s disappointing. It’s going to be a long summer and (there will be) a lot of time to think.
“I think not only this game, but the way we have been playing the last month or so, we had a pretty good record,” noted Benn, whose newest trophy was initially presented to the league by Arthur Howie Ross, former manager-coach of the Boston Bruins from 1924-54. “We seemed to find our game the last month or so. Our goalies were playing great, we were committed to playing team defense and our recorded showed (reflected) it.”
Coach Lindy Ruff acknowledged that Benn is a true “player” after seeing him battle through an injury most of the season. “(Benn) played through a lot…his second half of the year was a pretty special second half, and to (see him) dig in when Tyler (Seguin) got hurt, I thought he really found his game from that point on. What he did was special — that doesn’t happen very often. To end up winning the league scoring title is an incredible accomplishment. As a coach, you’re proud to see one of your players accomplish that. Every teammate was cheering him on from the bench and there were a couple of guys trying to talk me into pulling the goalie but I wasn’t going to be that radical. I know I pull him at some odd times but, first and foremost, we’re going to win a game.”
Stars general manager Jim Nill confirmed that there were nights when it seemed Benn would not skate “But he came to us and said, ‘No, I’m a player.’,” Nill told the Dallas Morning News. That’s Jamie Benn. To gut it out the way he did shows we’ve got a great leader on this team. (And) he’ll be (having ) hip surgery.”
The Stars (41-31-10) now must turn their attention to making this a playoff team that can make a deep run into the post-season and compete once again for that other trophy – the Stanley Cup.