LAS VEGAS — It had been quite some time since Vegas Golden Knights captain Mark Stone hurled himself into the end boards, slamming his body into the 5/8-inch-thick glass separating the area of play from adoring fans.
Thursday his trademark celebration returned, sending 18,333 fans into a frenzy as the Golden Knights tied the Winnipeg Jets in their Western Conference quarterfinal series, 1-1, with a resounding 5-2 victory.
Stone scored two goals and added an assist, his first points since Jan. 5.
“Pretty subpar five periods for me, didn’t really feel that great,” said Stone, who returned Tuesday in Game 1 after missing 39 games. “But you can get energized. I mean, you’re lying if you don’t get energized by a point or a goal, so it’s good to just get that one out of the way.”
William Karlsson, Jack Eichel and Chandler Stephenson also scored for the Golden Knights. Laurent Brossoit made 31 saves.
And while the Golden Knights looked much more like the team that raced to the Western Conference’s top seed down the stretch of the regular season, rather than the lethargic one in Game 1, it was Stone – who had back surgery on Jan. 31 – stealing the show with his presence on the ice, leadership on the bench, and energy in post-goal celebrations.
“Stoney’s an emotional guy and it’s great to see him back,” Eichel said. “Obviously, had a huge night for us tonight. Just to think about all the adversity that he’s gone through and everything that he’s worked through and battled to get back here and be on the ice with us, I can’t say enough about him. So happy to see him get rewarded there. He’s our captain for a reason. He brings it every night and his emotions run through the team.”
Defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, who had two assists for Vegas, reiterated Eichel’s comments about the team’s emotional leader.
“Big-time players come up in the right moments and that’s exactly what he did,” Pietrangelo said. “I’ve played with a lot of good players but there’s not many people that can do what he does at both ends of the ice. And when you play with him you really appreciate the things that he does night in and night out and he’s one hell of a leader.”
For more on Vegas’ top players leading the charge, read columnist Steve Carp’s take.
Adam Lowry and Kevin Stenlund scored for the Jets, while Connor Hellebuyck made 34 saves.
The series is tied 1-1, with Game 3 set for Saturday at 1 pm Pacific.
TURNING POINT: With Winnipeg’s Brenden Dillon and Vegas’ Nic Roy sitting in the penalty box, each for roughing, Pietrangelo was called for roughing 15 seconds later giving the Jets a 4-on-3 power play. But the Golden Knights held the Jets to just one shot on goal, while Karlsson blocked another. The key penalty kill kept Winnipeg’s lead at 1-0, and breathed life into the Golden Knights before intermission.
“That was pretty big for us,” Stone said. “We actually had a couple of good looks on our power plays so that didn’t suck any life out of us, which is good tonight. Obviously, didn’t capitalize, but led to some good shifts.”
WHAT WORKED: William Karlsson, again. An original misfit from the inaugural Golden Knights who lost in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final, Karlsson has been Vegas’ best player through two games. He scored the team’s lone goal in Game 1, when he gave the Knights a spark near the end of the second period. Thursday he scored their first goal to tie the game, and once again ignited momentum for the team to go on a 5-1 run en route to the win.
“He’s been our most consistent guy,” Vegas coach Bruce Cassidy said. “I thought the last three months he’s had his legs more than most of our guys, for whatever reason. He’s played all 82 games, so it’s not like he missed time and then came back. He’s got a lot of jump for whatever reason and been really good on both sides of the puck. Love the way he’s playing, good leader for us too. Tracking pucks and shift length, there’s just a lot of good things from Karly. He’s not this emotional guy, but he’s got a real inner drive and competitiveness that is infectious.”
Said Karlsson: “I have a lot of pasta for lunch and that’s a lot of energy. I just feel good going out there and I don’t know, I like my preparation, so I feel good going out there and I have a lot of energy to give. You go out there every shift and you go out there to score and I feel like I play better when I skate and I battle and … the little things.”
WHAT DIDN’T: For the first four periods of this series it was the defensive spacing. In the second period, the Golden Knights finally found a way to close the gaps on defense and became persistent enough to hold the offensive blue line. The Golden Knights have to be better in this area for all 60 minutes, as it allows them to stymie Winnipeg on the rush, pick off breakout passes, and create opportunities on their own.
“They obviously got out to a lead, thought we stuck with our game and there’s a lot of good for us to take out of that and just want to continue building it and there’s some areas that we probably want to clean up as well,” Eichel said.
JACK OF NEW TRADE: For Eichel, it was a coming-out party of sorts, as he scored his first-ever playoff goal after playing just the second postseason game of his career. After spending the first six years of his career in Buffalo, and the Golden Knights missing the playoffs last year, Eichel – one of the best centers in the league – is finally enjoying his first taste of the playoffs.
“I’m new to this playoff thing but it’s a game at a time and there’s a lot of momentum shifts in a series and just trying to handle that as well as possible,” Eichel said. “It’s about doing the little things right, winning your battles, moving your feet, backchecking – little things, they go a long way this time of year. It’s important to do those things. I think they add up at the end of the game.”