There are various ways for a captain to show leadership during the NHL playoffs.
In the case of Winnipeg’s Blake Wheeler, it means standing up for a fallen teammate and challenging Calgary’s Matthew Tkachuk to a fight.
For Golden Knights right wing Mark Stone, it’s … oh, right. Stone isn’t the captain yet.
But Monday’s effort by Stone was another example of what a captain does, as he sparked a four-goal third period to help the Knights beat Dallas 5-3 during the round robin in Edmonton, Alberta.
“He’s our leader, and that’s exactly what he did,” coach Pete DeBoer said.
The Knights adopted a mantra of 23 captains during their inaugural season, and no one has worn the “C” on his sweater in three seasons.
But DeBoer said this summer the team will name a captain before the 2020-21 season, and Stone immediately became the leading candidate.
In addition to being the Knights’ best all-around forward and highest-paid player, Stone emerged as the team’s emotional heartbeat after he was acquired from Ottawa at the trade deadline in 2019.
On Monday, he ignited the Knights after a sluggish opening two periods against the Stars.
Trailing 3-1, Stone latched onto a tip pass at the blue line from Nick Cousins and knifed through the Dallas defense before whistling a shot past goalie Ben Bishop at 9:46 of the third.
“Not many guys in the league can beat Ben Bishop from that distance with a wrist shot or a snap shot,” DeBoer said. “It was a big-time goal at the right time for us, and it really kick-started what you saw in the third period.”
Defenseman Nate Schmidt followed with the tying goal 1:29 later, and William Carrier scored the go-ahead goal when he swept a rebound through his legs.
Stone also helped set up Chandler Stephenson’s goal 1:04 into the first period with an artful head-man pass to William Karlsson and was named the game’s First Star.
Stone brushed off the notion that he felt the need to try to inspire the Knights.
“This is the closest group of guys I’ve ever played with. We have trust in one another,” Stone said. “I think the 20 guys that go out onto the ice are in sync. As you can see in the last 20 (minutes), when we are in sync, we’re playing our best hockey. We rely on each other. But I was just the one today that kind of got things started.”
Here are three more takeaways from the win:
1. Shuffle the deck
DeBoer showed he’s not going to be afraid to make changes this postseason, as he juggled the forward lines and defense pairs after the Stars went ahead 2-1 at 8:32 of the second period.
Karlsson was reunited with former linemates Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith, while Stone skated with Cousins and Stephenson. Paul Stastny centered Nicolas Roy and Alex Tuch on the third line, as the fourth line stayed intact.
“I gave it as long as I thought I could,” DeBoer said. “It was a period and at almost a half probably before we started to shuffle the deck. You keep hoping they’ll work their way out of it and work their way through it, but it wasn’t happening. A coach only has so many tools to use in those situations, and that’s obviously one of them.”
On defense, Schmidt and Shea Theodore were partnered, and Brayden McNabb joined Alec Martinez.
Theodore logged 9:14 of ice time in the third period with the Knights trying to come back and finished with a game-high 24:57. Schmidt played 8:21 of his 24:47 in the third period.
“It was an easy decision, and it didn’t work immediately in the second period. We didn’t get a lot of results from it,” DeBoer said. “But I thought in the third we were real good.”
2. Turnovers magnified
Had the Knights not mounted their comeback, their poor puck management in the second period would have been a bigger postgame topic.
Dallas scored its first two goals off turnovers after the Knights were unable to clear their own zone.
Roy coughed up the puck at the end of a long shift, and Joe Pavelski eventually capitalized when his pass went in off Martinez’s skate to tie the score at 1.
Less than a minute later, the Knights’ fourth line got pinned in its defensive zone and defenseman Nick Holden lost the puck along the wall. Stars defenseman Jamie Oleksiak waltzed through the slot and beat Robin Lehner to the glove side.
“A lot of us discussed after the game, all we saw was white (Stars jerseys) the first two periods,” Stone said. “We weren’t moving our feet. We weren’t playing with that quickness we’re used to playing (with).”
3. Lehner in spotlight
The Knights goalie took a knee during the national anthems alongside teammate Ryan Reaves and two players from the Stars.
Lehner then turned away eight shots in the first period when Dallas controlled most of the five-on-five action and finished with 24 saves. Two of the shots that got past him were on deflections.
Lehner is expected to get at least one more start during the round robin before DeBoer settles on his starting goalie for the Western Conference quarterfinals.
“We had no business being up 1-0 at the end of one (period),” DeBoer said. “He made some big saves early, and he made a couple huge saves at the end, a couple point-blankers that they could have tied it up. Timely, big saves for us in order to get two points.”