Acquisition Of Mark Stone By The Vegas Golden Knights Proving To Be A Worthy Gamble
“It’s Mark Stone’s world, we just live in it.”
“You can’t stop Mark Stone, you can only hope to contain him.”
Use whatever quote or catch phrase you feel appropriate that applies to the otherworldly play of Vegas Golden Knights winger Mark Stone right now. They all fit.
Stone scored his first career hat trick and chipped in two assists as the Golden Knights took a 2-1 series lead over the San Jose Sharks in the first round of their National Hockey League series with a 6-3 win in Vegas Sunday night.
Stone, acquired at the National Hockey League trade deadline from the Ottawa Senators, was worth every asset the Knights had to give up to get him. He was sent packing by the Senators (along with winger Tobias Lindberg) for Oscar Lindberg, Erik Brannstrom and Dallas’ 2nd round pick in the 2020 NHL entry draft.
After watching Stone’s play through the first three games of their series with the Sharks, it’s hard to believe that’s all the Knights had to give up to obtain him.
With six goals so far in the series, Stone has tallied more goals than both the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Pittsburgh Penguins have so far in the playoffs. Both the Penguins and Lightning have five goals through three games in their respective series’.
As the final horn sounded to conclude Sunday’s game, Stone and the rest of the Knights left little doubt about who is in the driver’s seat in this series. It’s the Knights. And it all started very early on Sunday, too.
The final notes of the American National Anthem were still echoing in the upper levels of T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas when Stone and the Golden Knights took an early lead.
Just 16 seconds into the contest, Vegas defenceman Nate Schmidt found a streaking Stone going up the middle through the neutral zone. Stone blazed a trail to the goal and beat Sharks goalie Martin Jones with a backhand shot to go up 1-0.
With under eight minutes remaining in the opening frame, Knights winger Max Pacioretty notched his second goal of the playoffs to put the Knights up 2-0. Pacioretty’s goal was one of 20 shots fired at Jones in the opening stanza. Jones did the best he could during the barrage and held the Sharks’ head above water.
Sharks winger Kevin Labanc got the Sharks within one with 4:34 remaining in the period. The goal was good optics for the Sharks, if nothing else. This period was all Knights, all the way.
Final shots for the period were 20-10 for the Knights.
Fans were still putting the last touch of condiments on their hot dogs at the concession stands when Vegas struck again.
Paul Stastny scored his first goal of the playoffs just 21 seconds into the period this time to put the Knights back up by two.
It’s no secret that these two teams don’t like each other, and the chippy play that has been so predominant in earlier contests started to rear its ugly head as the period wore on. Not long after Stastny scored again on a deflected Stone pass to put the Knights up 4-1, Sharks veteran centre Joe Thornton laid a vicious shoulder to the head of unsuspecting Knights forward Tomas Nosek as the play was leaving the Vegas zone. Though only given a minor penalty on the play, the Department of NHL Player Safety after the game stated they would be looking into the play, which could result into a suspension for Thornton.
From this point on the game went from tough and gritty to 30-second shifts of survival. Innocent enough interference and tripping calls escalated into slashing and roughing minors, as the Sharks grew frustrated and the Knights refused to back down.
Shots once again favoured the Knights by a 10-7 margin in the period.
Mark Stone waits for no one. Not even the fan trying to grab that last 20-ounce beer before the taps are turned off for good on the night in the concourse.
Just 36 seconds in, Stone once again went to work and buried his second of the night on a rebound to put Vegas up 5-1. Jones was far enough away from the play he could have taken a few steps and grabbed a beer as well in the concourse.
Questionable positioning and fighting the puck throughout the night, Jones’ struggles are no secret this year. There was always hope among the Sharks brass and their faithful fans that Jones would flip a switch come playoff time, just as he has in the past. But so far this year this simply isn’t the case, and no doubt questions are being asked deep in the heart of Sharks executive offices as to whether Jones can get himself straightened out in time before it’s too late.
The only thing saving this game from completely getting out of control and turning into an old-fashioned Donnybrook was the Sharks responding with two goals 54 seconds apart to make it a 5-3 game with just over 14 minutes remaining. Logan Couture on the power play and Timo Meier scored to make it a game again, as the Sharks showed some push back.
A potentially costly holding penalty by Vegas’ William Carrier with almost 11 minutes remaining gave the Sharks hope that they could make this a one-goal game. But the Vegas penalty kill was simply smothering on this kill, as their anticipation and neutral zone efficiency would not allow the Sharks to get any opportunity to get set up in the offensive zone. While San Jose has potted one power play goal each game, overall they are just 3 for 16 in the series, as the Vegas penalty killers have made a profound difference in this series.
Just two and a half minutes after that the Carrier penalty ended, Stone said enough was enough and put this game to bed with his third of the net to put Vegas back up by three with just over six minutes to go.
Outside of a spirited tilt between Vegas’ Ryan Reaves and the Sharks Evander Kane, there was nothing else to see here as the Knights prevailed 6-3, and lead the series 2-1.
Shots on goal in the third were 10-9 Vegas, and they outshot the Sharks on the night 40-28.
Of course it’s Stone here. But overshadowed in the Stone highlights was Pacioretty, himself notching five points on the night on a pair of goals and three assists. After a ho-hum regular season, Pacioretty has found new life playing on the opposite wing of former Atlantic Division rival Stone. With playoff-proven Stastny playing pivot between them, this line has quickly established themselves amongst the best in the league.
It would be easy to point the finger at Jones here, but really it’s the San Jose defence as a whole. Erik Karlsson had a rather dreadful night, posting a -3 with no shots, hits or blocked shots in logging almost 21 minutes of ice-time. To play that many minutes and not be more involved speaks to either a hidden or nagging injury or just simply being overwhelmed with the chippiness this series has evolved into.
Three Stars Of The Game
First Star: Mark Stone. Three goals, two assists and helped the Vegas Knights to become the first team since the 1981 Boston Bruins to score goals in the opening minute of each period in a playoff game.
Second Star: Max Pacioretty. Two goals and three assists. Five shots on goal. If he’s coming alive, Vegas will be tough to stop going forward.
Third Star: Ryan Reaves. No I’m not drunk. In an era where the NHL has almost exclusively distanced itself from the term “goon”, there are still players like Reaves who can play the game at a top-level, skate with the best and provide solid bottom-six minutes. Reaves is that guy. His eight hits on the night had every Shark looking over their shoulder in the nearly ten minutes of ice-time he received. He makes every Knight player a couple of inches taller, and their isn’t a general manager in the NHL that wouldn’t have him on their team.
Tuesday night, Game 4 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Puck drop at 10:30 EST. In what has quickly become one of the best rivalries in hockey, expect this game to be a thriller.
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Statistics provided by hockey-reference and TheScore
Featured Image Photo Credit: Nikos Michals