DALLAS (AP) — Dallas Stars captain Jamie Benn was suspended two games by the NHL on Wednesday after an ugly hit on Vegas captain Mark Stone in a Game 3 loss that left Dallas on the brink of being swept out of the Western Conference Final.
Benn will miss the must-win Game 4 for the Stars on Thursday night, and Game 5 as well if they win. If Dallas is swept, the suspension would extend to the opener next season.
Benn got a game misconduct for his cross-check less than two minutes into the Tuesday night's game after the captains collided near the blue line. After Stone fell to the ice, Benn lunged forward with both hands on his stick and made contact near Stone’s neck as he was sliding over the center line.
In a video announcing the suspension, the league noted Benn is in control of the play and made the decision to cross-check Stone, who was in a vulnerable position.
“This is simply an unnecessarily dangerous decision by Benn, and it is delivered with sufficient intent and force to merit supplemental discipline,” the league said.
Benn had been fined four times but never suspended before in his 14 NHL seasons. Before his hearing Wednesday afternoon, Benn said he wished he hadn’t used his stick “as a landing point” during the play.
“Just heat of the moment. ... I need to be more responsible with my body and my stick,” Benn said. “My first shift of a game on home ice when you’re pretty jacked up and down 1-0, so you want to try to get your team going. Emotions are high and, you know, it was just an unfortunate play.”
Vegas scored on the ensuing power play, doubling its lead, before going on to a 4-0 win to take a 3-0 series lead. With a win Thursday night, the Knights would advance to the Stanley Cup Final for the second time in the franchise's six seasons.
“I didn't love what transpired, but it got handled the right way and we stayed focused as a team,” said Stone, who also spoke before the suspension was announced.
The Stars had hoped for a strong Game 3 but instead saw the Golden Knights score three times in the first 7 1/2 minutes to chase inconsistent goalie Jake Oettinger amid a series of ugly penalties and even fans pelting the ice with debris.
Stone said he was “a little bit surprised” at that kind of play happening when it did.
“It was early in the game, my first shift of the game,” he said. “I didn’t expect to get stomped on like that.”
Asked what he could have done differently in that moment, Benn said he obviously didn’t want to take a five-minute major penalty.
“But the game happens fast, emotions are high, and obviously would have liked to not fall on him and, I guess, use my stick as a landing point,” Benn said.
Dallas coach Pete DeBoer had said the Stars were prepared for the possibility that Benn wouldn't be available for a game that they must win to extend their season.
“The bottom line is that there’s consequences for actions and he’s paying the consequences for that,” DeBoer said. “From our group’s perspective, I think everybody wants to see Jamie Benn play again. I think we all want to make sure his season doesn’t end on a note like that.”
DeBoer said that Oettinger would be back in net for Game 4, even after losing three starts in a row. He has lost four of five, but the win was in Game 7 over Seattle last week.
Along with Benn, the Stars could also be without forward Evgenii Dadonov. He left with a lower-body injury in the first period, and DeBoer said he was doubtful for Game 4.
Max Domi, who got a 10-minute misconduct at the end of the second period, was fined $5,000 by the NHL for slashing Stone in the closing minutes of the game; no penalty was called.
The earlier misconduct came when Domi, after cross-checking Nicolas Hague, started throwing punches with 21 seconds left in the second.
Fans reacted to penalties being called on Domi by throwing water bottles, food and other items on the ice. With extended time needed to clean up the playing surface, officials sent both teams to their locker rooms early and finished those final seconds after the intermission before playing the third period.
Dallas Stars president Brad Alberts issued an apology to the Golden Knights and the NHL for "the actions of a few of our spectators at last night's game. Their actions were unacceptable and put the safety of the players and fans at risk.
“We take pride in providing the best experience for everyone who enters our arena," he said. "The actions of these individuals certainly do not reflect our great city, organization and loyal fan base.”