George McPhee won the NHL’s General Manager of the Year award last year and has continued to show why this season.
McPhee’s three biggest acquisitions since the Golden Knights skated off the ice for the final time last summer all made their presence felt in Game 3 of the team’s first-round matchup with the San Jose Sharks Sunday night.
First it was Mark Stone, then Max Pacioretty, then Paul Stastny twice, then Stone again and again to complete the first hat trick of his career and the first one in postseason franchise history.
Three of the newest Golden Knights, all on the same line, scored all of the team’s goals as Vegas beat San Jose 6-3 in front of 18,461 fans at T-Mobile Arena to take a 2-1 lead in the series.
“It’s my first one, so it’s awesome, but ultimately a 6-3 win in this building is better than anything I’ve ever experienced,” Stone said of his hat trick. “The ultimate goal is to win in this league, so yeah, we’re happy we’re up 2-1 and we can celebrate for a little bit, but once midnight hits, we’ve got to be ready for Tuesday night.”
Last year, it was William Karlsson doing the heavy lifting in the playoffs. The first line of Karlsson, Reilly Smith and Jonathan Marchessault have combined for three points in the first three games this season, which would have been a death knell for the team a year ago.
This time around, Vegas has another line ready to carry the load.
Stone had never recorded three points in a playoff game before Sunday but tallied five in Game 3. Stastny matched the output with his own career-high five points. They were so dominant that Pacioretty’s goal and assist almost seemed like an afterthought.
“They’ve been awesome,” coach Gerard Gallant said. “One line is not going to carry you. We need everybody going and that’s what I want from my group.”
That may be true, but the Stastny-Stone-Pacioretty line is doing everything in their power to disprove it. The newbies combined for 12 points tonight and 22 total over the first three games of the series. The rest of the team has collectively put up 13 points.
“There’s going to be different lines that step up every night,” Stastny said. “Whether it was us tonight or another line a different night, I think that’s the most important thing. When you’re playing on a good successful team you’re all rooting for each other and you all want each other to do well.”
It was the T-Mobile playoff debut of all three, though Stastny played in the building last year as a Winnipeg Jet. It took them no time to get acclimated. Stone scored at the 16-second mark of the first.
The Golden Knights became the first team in postseason history to score goals in the opening minute of each period, as Stastny scored at the 21-second mark of the second and Stone added one 36 seconds into the third.
Stone has a league-best six goals this postseason, which is one more than he head in 18 regular-season games with Vegas since being acquired at the deadline. It’s not a bad way to endear himself to his new home crowd.
“This is why I came here, I want to play playoff hockey,” Stone said. “Everything I expected and more.”
There’s an argument to be made that Stone’s line became Vegas’ best from the moment he arrived. Karlsson’s line should get going soon, but in the interim, the Golden Knights are lucky to have a veteran line of stars that can put the game on its back when needed.
And all three of them were wearing different jerseys when last season ended.
“They’re clicking,” defenseman Shea Theodore said. “They’re doing all the right things and they’re getting rewarded for it.”