Updated April 27, 2023 - 11:46 pm
Puck met stick met net 50 seconds into Game 5 between the Golden Knights and Winnipeg Jets when captain Mark Stone set center Chandler Stephenson up for a tap-in.
The announced crowd of 18,476 at T-Mobile Arena — the largest for the Knights this season — rose to its feet dreaming of a handshake line. The Jets’ flickering hopes seemed extinguished.
The Knights barely changed that feeling the rest of the night.
A dominant effort led by Stephenson’s two goals, Stone’s three points and goaltender Laurent Brossoit’s 30 saves against his former team led to a 4-1 victory that pushed the team into the second round. The Knights won their fourth straight after losing Game 1, repeating the formula of their win against the Jets in the 2018 Western Conference Final.
The Knights will play the winner of the Edmonton Oilers-Los Angeles Kings series next. The Oilers lead 3-2, and Game 6 is Saturday at Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles.
“Start to finish, every line, every D-pairing was very motivated and playing at the top of their game,” Brossoit said. “I think it was our best game.”
The Knights were on the ropes at times against the Jets.
They lost the opener 5-1. They trailed 1-0 after a poor first period in Game 2. They needed to win in double overtime in Game 3 after blowing a 4-1 third-period lead.
They were never in any danger Thursday, however.
The Knights never looked back after Stone’s setup to Stephenson gave them an early lead. Stone made the score 2-0 only 42 seconds into the second by batting a bouncing puck up to himself, gloving it down to the ice and then firing it into the top corner past goaltender Connor Hellebuyck.
Center William Karlsson added his fourth goal of the series 3:59 later. Stephenson kept the beatdown going by scoring on the power play 3:56 after that.
The Jets’ comeback efforts never got off the ground without No. 1 defenseman Josh Morrissey or leading goal scorer Mark Scheifele, who were out for Game 5 with injuries. Winnipeg managed one goal with Hellebuyck pulled and had another taken away via a Knights challenge.
“We had no pushback,” coach Rick Bowness said. “Their better players were so much better than ours tonight. They deserved to win. They were the better team in the regular season; they were the better team in this series.”
One element keeping the Jets at bay was Brossoit, who improved to 9-1 in his last 10 starts. The one-time Hellebuyck understudy outshined his former goalie partner by posting a .916 save percentage in his first playoff series as a starter.
Winnipeg had no chance with Brossoit doing that.
The Knights are deeper up front and on defense. They’re a battle-tested group with veterans. And they’ve shown all season they can compete with anybody when they’re on their game.
They’ll need to wait to find out their next opponent. Whoever it is has to hope they can’t keep playing like they did Thursday.
“For us, finding ways to win has been a motto for us all year,” coach Bruce Cassidy said. “I don’t think our stats show that we’re one of the best teams in any particular category except wins. And that’s what you play for.”
Here are three takeaways from the win:
1. Dynamic duo
Stephenson and Stone were two of the Knights’ best players in the series.
Stone, after missing three months because of a back surgery, returned to score eight points in five games. He had two three-point games in the series, after scoring at least three points only twice his first 72 playoff games.
Stephenson, who also finished with eight points, had four straight multipoint games to end the series. The two were put back together after a long time apart and picked up right where they left off.
“Sometimes you just find chemistry with a guy,” Stone said. “It makes it a lot easier when you’ve been playing together with somebody for so long. I don’t know if I can pinpoint anything really. I think we see each other’s game very well.”
2. Carrier returns
Defenseman Neal Pionk learned the hard way that William Carrier was back.
Pionk was leveled in the corner of his zone by the Knights left wing 3:36 into the second period. It was one of a game-high six hits Carrier dished out in his first game since March 3 after coming back from a lower-body injury.
Right wing Phil Kessel was a healthy scratch to make room for Carrier in the lineup. Kessel sat for the first time since beginning his record streak of 1,064 consecutive games played Nov. 3, 2009. His streak will remain intact because it’s a regular-season record.
3. D shuffle
The Knights played without two regular defensemen Thursday, as Brayden McNabb had an upper-body injury and Shea Theodore had an illness.
Defensemen Ben Hutton and rookie Brayden Pachal joined the lineup to make their playoff debuts, while defenseman Nic Hague and Zach Whitecloud had their responsibilities increased.
Hague played a game-high 26:21 for the Knights. Whitecloud was third on the team at 21:17.
”Obviously you don’t want to see two of your better defensemen go out,” Whitecloud said. “But it’s time for guys to step up and fill their shoes. Obviously no one can fill the shoes of No. 3 and 27. But take the minutes and execute and do the job and do what you’re asked to do.”