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Thoughts of a Knights-Jets Western final rematch is appealing

Updated March 21, 2019 - 10:36 pm

Man, and Mark Stone wasn’t even part of that Western Conference Final last season.

There are miles and miles to go — think a car drive from here to Nebraska and back — before a rematch could become reality, before the Golden Knights and Winnipeg might again meet for the right to play for a Stanley Cup.

But that doesn’t make the thought of it any less appealing.

Stone needed just 29 seconds Thursday night to introduce himself to what is a growing rivalry, taking a five-minute major for fighting Blake Wheeler of the Jets, who was also sent to the box.

Rocky Stone is good at so many things.

The fighting part … not so much.

But it was an electric beginning to a game the Knights would win 5-0 before an announced gathering of 18,430 at T-Mobile Arena, allowing the home team to avoid being swept in the regular season by Winnipeg.

Yeah. It was as much of a rout as the score suggests.

The Knights are 10-1 since trading for Stone, and over that time are a plus-25, and right now are forechecking the snot out of people, having moved smoothly into the role of the side no one would want to face if the playoffs began today.

I would think that might even include Winnipeg, which leads the Central Division by two points over Nashville.

So much can still happen.

So much would be different, anyway.

The Jets on the second game of a back-to-back Thursday started backup goalie Laurent Brossoit before pulling him in the second period because of an injury and down 3-0.

Malcolm Subban started and won his third straight for the Knights, facing just 20 shots while recording his first career shutout. Doughnuts for everyone.

But if this had been a playoff game, you would have seen a replay of Connor Hellebuyck against Marc-Andre Fleury (despite his day-to-day status) last May.

You remember that series, no?

If you watched just the first eight or so minutes of it, you would have thought the Jets were going to fly to a Western title, having gone up 3-0 in Game 1 faster than most of the white-clad faithful downed countless cold beverages at a pregame celebration outside Bell MTS Place.

“It just seemed like (the Knights) had some nerves coming out that first game and we were able to get up fast,” said Paul Stastny, who was with the Jets last season before signing here in July. “But the score ended up just 4-2. They started playing better and had some really good chances the second half of that game. We never thought it was going to be easy. We knew how good a team they were.

“Especially in the playoffs, one game can mean nothing. Things can change so fast. Mentally tough teams can turn the page as quick as possible. They did a really good job at that. Once they got going, they played like they had all season. Maybe because we had been playing so well at home, some guys took them a little too lightly in (Game 2).”

Top line awakens

The Knights would win that one 3-1 and take the next three games as well, claiming the series in five by being the better, more opportunistic team.

So many timely goals. So many momentum changing plays.

It’s good for the Knights that Stastny is now on their side because lost in Stone’s terrific play since arriving from Ottawa and the fact a first line has stirred to life like Robert De Niro in “Awakenings,” the second-line center is showing of late how valuable he is.

Stastny had two assists Thursday and now has 10 goals and 27 assists since returning from injury.

He also has 37 points in 44 games.

And his elite passing never gets enough credit.

His second-line teammate in Max Pacioretty was lost to injury in the first period Thursday and reportedly left the arena before the second was finished, meaning things in the lineup could look much different beginning Saturday against Detroit.

But there is depth to draw on for the Knights, who, what do you know, now trail second-place San Jose by just five points.

They also trucked Winnipeg on Thursday like Wheeler did Stone.

A preview to another conference final?

Miles and miles and miles to go.

But the thought of it sure is appealing.

Contact columnist Ed Graney at egraney@reviewjournal.com 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.

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