Updated June 9, 2021 - 5:16 am
DENVER — It was in January, the day Golden Knights forward Mark Stone was named the first captain in franchise history, when his coach spoke about the choice.
“I don’t think Mark Stone is a one-moment guy,” Pete DeBoer said. “I think he’s a guy that does it right every single day. How he approaches the game, how he approaches practice, how he is with his teammates.”
Believe it: DeBoer is absolutely fine with one specific moment of play — well, more like eight seconds — Stone executed Tuesday night.
The Knights are a win away from advancing out of this West Division final, this after a 3-2 overtime win against Colorado at Ball Arena. The best-of-seven series returns to T-Mobile Arena for Game 6 on Thursday.
A victory by the Knights will earn them a semifinal date against Montreal.
Stone would end Game 5 in dramatic fashion, blocking a shot at one end and then breaking out for the game-winner when rifling a shot past Colorado goalie Philipp Grubauer.
It came at 50 seconds into overtime and was his only shot on goal all night.
Talk about making the most of it.
This was never going to be easy, no matter how inept Colorado was at times during Games 3 and 4 losses at T-Mobile Arena. They entered 20-0-1 in their last 21 home games. The Avalanche win here like the town is hit with snow flurries across December.
It’s also true the Knights were beyond fortunate that it was only a 2-0 deficit after two periods. The forecheck that allowed them to smother Colorado in Las Vegas instead belonged to the Avalanche those first 40 minutes.
But belief is a strong attitude to own and no team remaining in these playoffs is more confident in its ability than DeBoer’s side.
Think about this: Alex Pietrangelo is a defenseman expected to do significant things, but when he has six shots to zero from your top line after two periods, something is amiss.
It wasn’t at all the most productive of nights for Stone, Chandler Stephenson and Max Pacioretty. The trio combined for two shots on goal.
Until, of course, it became the most productive of nights.
“(Stone) was exhausted and then you saw how hard he skated all the way down the ice (in overtime),” said Knights forward Alex Tuch, whose third-period goal got his team to within 2-1. “He is the heart and soul of this team. He wears his character on his chest. He’s the captain that we have always wanted.
“I think he was a little frustrated with himself at times during the game, but then he came up huge for us.”
No player is more passionate than Stone. None wants to win more. None gets more excited when others succeed.
It’s easy to suggest a team’s highest-paid player should be its finest leader. We know that not to always be true throughout sports. But it is with Stone. He does so in the most unpretentious of ways.
Marc-Andre Fleury has been and continues to be the face of this franchise. But in naming Stone captain, the Knights continued evolving. It was an important sign of growth.
“That was vintage Mark Stone,” DeBoer said of the game-winning play. “I think if there’s one sequence that kind of defines him, that would be it. Willing to do that grunt work and that dirty work around our net defensively and then the big-time play to win it for us.”
So here comes the sports cliche of choice over the next 48 hours: That the toughest game to win in a best-of-seven is the one that clinches a series.
The Knights will try and do so Thursday.
They own such opportunity, in large part, because of Stone.
“Sometimes when the defensemen shoot it, they can get a little flat-footed,” he said. “I just took off and was fortunate to win the game.”
Mark Stone: Typically deferential, consummate captain.
Ed Graney is a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing and can be reached at [email protected] or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.