Saturday, May 22, 2021 | 9:38 p.m.
ST. PAUL, Minn. — In the vault of Mark Stone goal celebrations — a vast assembly, to be sure — there was new addition Saturday that could be considered the crown jewel of the collection.
The Golden Knights captain crashed into the goal posts while scoring a short-handed playoff goal against the Minnesota Wild. He immediately popped to his feet without his stick, and proceeded to pump his fist and scream in excitement.
He clapped and slapped defenseman Nicolas Hague’s hand with all the force of a man who knew he just won a playoff series, because he almost has.
The Golden Knights beat the Wild 4-0 in Game 4 at Xcel Energy Center and took a 3-1 lead in the first-round series. They’ll have a chance to clinch at home Monday.
“I kind of just used my speed for the goal,” Stone said. “I lost my stick. Net went off. I lost my mind.”
Social media exploded when it happened, as did the Golden Knights’ bench. The goal negated a four-minute, potentially game-swinging power play by the Wild, and deflated the crowd of 4,500 who were hoping for a tally the other way.
Vegas has been short-handed eight times series, but with the goal now has more short-handed goals than the Wild have power-play goals. It was Stone’s second short-handed goal of the year including the regular season, fifth of his career, and first in the playoffs.
It had every element of what makes Stone so good. He took the puck away from Matt Dumba to show off his defense, skated around Ryan Suter to show off an element of speed that has been the knock on him the past, and deked Cam Talbot to finish it off.
The goal itself was tremendous. The celebration was legendary.
“They’re all up there, it’s really hard to decipher and figure out what one is your favorite,” forward Alec Tuch said of Stone’s celebration. “That’s our captain. He gets us all pumped up, motivates us, doesn’t matter what the score is. He’s pumped to score and we’re pumped for him. You know what, I feel like that energy he brings is taken for granted sometimes by people outside of our locker room. He’s one of the biggest leaders I’ve ever played with.”
That was the biggest momentum swing of the game, but the first came in the first period on the shift after the Golden Knights opened the scoring, the first time this series they netted the first goal of the game. Nicolas Roy had a terrific 200-foot play, batting away a puck that Nick Bonino had earmarked for the Vegas net, then went down the ice and filled the Minnesota net for the 1-0 lead.
But 19 seconds later Joel Eriksson Ek appeared to have evened the game back up. Immediately, though the Golden Knights bench signaled to the officials, indicating they believed Marcus Foligno had interfered with Marc-Andre Fleury on the play.
“We get one screen, one look at one angle on the bench. The one I was looking at looked like it was (goalie interference) but you never know,” coach Pete DeBoer said while crediting video coach Dave Rogowski and goalie coach Mike Rosati. “It was the right call and I think the right decision.”
Turns out they were right.
For the second game in a row a challenge pulled a Minnesota goal off the board and it came at a pivotal point in the game. In Game 3 it kept the Golden Knights from falling behind 3-0, and on Saturday it maintained their 1-0 lead.
That one goal was all Fleury needed. Vegas’ goalie finished with 35 saves to record his first shutout of the postseason and 16th playoff clean sheet of his career, tying him for third on the all-time list. He’s allowed four goals in four games this series.
“I just go out, try to make the save, I don’t think too much,” Fleury said. “Every night I’m just trying to keep the game close, trying to make that first save, not think too far ahead.”
The Golden Knights put any narrative that they couldn’t win in Minnesota to bed with not only two wins, but two commanding wins. They didn’t shrink from a 2-0 deficit after a period in Game 3 on Thursday to win by three goals, then led from whistle to whistle on Saturday.
Vegas entered the series with a 2-6-0 record at Xcel Energy Center, with the only wins coming in a shootout in 2018 and in 3-on-3 overtime earlier this month. Those formats don’t exist in the playoffs, so the Golden Knights got down to business and played the Wild out of their own barn.
And speaking of barns, the Golden Knights will have a chance on Monday in Game 5 to clinch a series at T-Mobile Arena for the first time in the team’s short history. More than 11,000 fans have been approved, which would make it the largest crowd of the season by a factor of a few thousand.
The Golden Knights went into Minnesota and silenced the crowd. Now they get to come home where they’re expecting anything but silence.
“We played the full 60 minutes tonight and if we do that we’re really hard to beat,” Roy said. “Then of course we’re really excited to come back to our building. It’s been amazing and it’s going to be even better in these games. We’re really fortunate to play at T-Mobile.”