DALLAS -- The Dallas Stars defended captain Jamie Benn after he was ejected in the first period of their devastating 4-0 loss in Game 3, which put the Vegas Golden Knights one win away from a Western Conference finals sweep.
With his team already trailing 1-0 in the first two minutes of Tuesday night's game, Benn knocked Vegas captain Mark Stone to the ice with a check. With Stone on his back, Benn drove his stick down into Stone's jaw area while falling to the ice himself. The on-ice officials gave Benn a match penalty for cross-checking.
They reviewed the play on a tablet near the penalty boxes and determined the call was correct. Per NHL Rule 59, a cross-checking match penalty can be assessed if the referee believes a player "attempted to or deliberately injured his opponent by cross-checking."
At 1:53 of the first period, Benn skated off to the locker room with a game misconduct penalty. Vegas would score on the ensuing five-minute major power play and again at 7:10 of the first period, chasing Dallas goaltender Jake Oettinger after he faced just five shots.
"I'm not sure you could script it much worse," Dallas coach Peter DeBoer said of the team's start.
Benn, 33, refused to speak with the media after the game.
His teammates and coach did speak, defending their captain.
DeBoer said Benn "made a mistake" on the play.
"I don't think anyone in the building feels worse than he does about it. I'm not going to pile on him. He's been a leader here for his entire career and leads by example every day on and off the ice. He made a mistake. Fortunately, Mark Stone's OK," he said.
DeBoer acknowledged that Benn could be looking at supplemental discipline from the NHL for the cross-check. George Parros, director of the department of player safety, attended the game.
"We will live with the consequences, whatever they are. We'll live with them tonight and we'll live with them going forward," DeBoer said. "It's a reactionary sport. It's a heat-of-the-moment sport. There's a lot of stuff going on there on the ice. I'm not judge and jury. I'm not going to play that tonight."
Forward Tyler Seguin, the second-longest-tenured player in Dallas, after Benn, said there was "zero" frustration with the captain in the locker room. "Jamie's one of the, if not the, best captain in this league and top leader. Collectively, we lost as a group," he said.
Dallas forward Joe Pavelski concurred.
"He was tied up and engaged and went for a little extra. Emotions get the best of all of us at some point," he said.
Pavelski was a captain himself for four seasons with the San Jose Sharks. Was he at all disappointed in Benn?
"No. You guys ask if I'm disappointed in the guy I have so much respect for? Who battles so hard? I have no problems with [Benn]. We have to be better from there," he said. "We're in the conference finals. They don't come around every day. We still have a little life."
The start of Game 3 was an absolute embarrassment for Dallas.
Vegas forward Jonathan Marchessault gave the Golden Knights the lead 1:11 into the contest, taking a pass from linemate Jack Eichel and quickly shooting the puck past Oettinger.
Just 42 seconds later, Benn cost Dallas its captain for the rest of the night.
Golden Knights coach Bruce Cassidy was impressed that his team didn't lose its composure after seeing Stone attacked by Benn.
"We're upset when we see that. He's our captain. But at the end of the day they make a call that gives us a chance to make them pay for that penalty," the coach said.
The Stars were doing a good job of killing off the ensuing penalty until Vegas forward Ivan Barbashev scored his fifth goal of the playoffs at 5:57 of the first period.
"I actually liked our energy. I loved us on the penalty kill," DeBoer said. "I thought even though we gave up the first goal and Jamie took the penalty, I thought we had the legs and the energy and the attitude to kind of survive it. Well, we didn't."
Just 1:13 later, forward William Carrier beat Oettinger high glove side for his first goal of the playoffs and a 3-0 Vegas lead.
DeBoer pulled Oettinger after just 7:10 of ice time. The Stars goaltender has played 33 games since March 1.
Backup goaltender Scott Wedgewood, who had last played on May 13 against the Seattle Kraken, entered the game. He would give up only one goal, as Vegas defenseman Alex Pietrangelo scored his first of the playoffs on the power play at 8:28 of the second period to make it 4-0.
The Stars started coming unhinged at that point. Forward Ty Dellandrea took back-to-back penalties. Forward Max Domi hit Vegas defenseman Nicolas Hague from behind, launching him into the boards. He then skated up to Hague to throw a couple of gloved punches at him. Domi was given cross-checking and roughing minors, as well as a 10-minute misconduct penalty.
Following those calls on Domi, Dallas fans littered the ice with plastic bottles and assorted garbage in protest, frustration or a combination of both. The referees had the Golden Knights and Stars players leave for their dressing rooms with 21.6 seconds remaining in the second period for their safety.
The period was completed ahead of the start of the third. The fans weren't done: Vegas goalie Adin Hill was hit with a bag of popcorn as he walked out after the second intermission.
"I guess everything was hitting me tonight," joked Hill, who made 34 saves for his first NHL playoff shutout.
Seguin said he was disappointed with the fans' behavior, but said his team was the catalyst for it.
"Yeah, we don't love it. We have amazing fans here," Seguin said. "That's out of character for them. But we put them in that position. They're emotional just like us. So we've got to do better."
Game 4 will be Thursday night in Dallas. Teams that hold a 3-0 lead in a best-of-seven Stanley Cup playoffs round own a series record of 200-4 (.980), including a 46-0 mark during the round before the Final. The Stars are 0-7 in playoff series when trailing 3-0.
"A lot of stuff tonight's between the ears," Seguin said. "You got to beat us one more time. We have a tight group in here, a lot of character and we're going to give everything we got."