¡¡¡¡Golden Knights center Chandler Stephenson (20) kicks up some ice shaving as he attempts a shot on San Jose Sharks goaltender Josef Korenar (32) during the second period of an NHL game at T-Mobile Arena on Wednesday, April 21, 2021 in Las Vegas. L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @Left_Eye_ImagesGolden Knights center Chandler Stephenson (20) eyes a puck versus the Minnesota Wild during the second period of an NHL playoff game at the T-Mobile Arena on Sunday, May 16, 2021, in Las Vegas. (L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @Left_Eye_ImagesGolden Knights center Chandler Stephenson (20) eyes the puck as he tumbles over Minnesota Wild defenseman Jonas Brodin (25) during the third period of an NHL playoff game at the T-Mobile Arena on Sunday, May 16, 2021, in Las Vegas. (L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @Left_Eye_Images
¡¡¡¡The concept of speed in sports is as much urban legend as Walt Disney being cryogenically frozen.
¡¡¡¡Don¡¯t overthink it. Mickey Mouse¡¯s father isn¡¯t cooling off somewhere, and fast is fast.
¡¡¡¡There¡¯s much of the latter in this Golden Knights-Colorado best-of-seven series. There¡¯s also a top-line center not named Nathan MacKinnon who can fly.
¡¡¡¡Chandler Stephenson can get going, all right, as fine a skater through the middle of the ice as most anyone in the NHL. He¡¯s a counter to the blur that is MacKinnon.
¡¡¡¡The Knights on Friday beat Colorado 3-2 and trimmed its West Division final series lead to 2-1. It was a victory created in large part by Stephenson¡¯s line bottling up its MacKinnon-led opposition.
¡¡¡¡¡°If you ask anyone in the NHL, Boston¡¯s first line and Colorado¡¯s first line would be in the conversation for the best line in the world,¡± Knights coach Pete DeBoer said. ¡°It¡¯s a big ask. We¡¯re asking Stephenson to play against MacKinnon and that group every single night and try to create offense for us at the same time.¡±
¡¡¡¡A sizable challenge
¡¡¡¡The teams meet for Game 4 on Sunday at what should be another frenzied T-Mobile Arena.
¡¡¡¡A leading objective for the Knights: Continue owning a keen awareness of MacKinnon and his linemates.
¡¡¡¡It¡¯s a sizable challenge five-on-five, one Stephenson and Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty more than met in Game 3. But limiting chances at one end hasn¡¯t resulted in them finishing at the other.
¡¡¡¡The trio has totaled just one goal (Pacioretty¡¯s game-winner Friday) and three assists in the series. Much more is needed from those expected ¡ª and a few paid quite handsomely ¡ª to deliver.
¡¡¡¡¡°It would be nice to click and contribute five-on-five, for sure,¡± said Stephenson, still looking for his first point after three games while averaging nearly 20 minutes of ice time. ¡°It seems like we¡¯re doing everything except scoring. I think that will come. We¡¯re not getting frustrated with it as a line. We¡¯re getting our opportunities. It would be different if we weren¡¯t.¡±
¡¡¡¡Stephenson signed a four-year contract extension in October with the team he helped defeat as a member of the Capitals in the Stanley Cup Final in 2018. His arrival in Las Vegas also meant an eventual ascension to the top line.
¡¡¡¡A third-round pick of Washington in 2012, he produced career highs in goals (14) and assists (35) this season.
¡¡¡¡Speed changes everything. Combine it with elite skill and you have a lethal pairing. It¡¯s why MacKinnon teaming with Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen can, as DeBoer suggested Saturday, put a fear in your belly if you should lose focus for just one shift.
¡¡¡¡Stephenson also is fast enough to generate such concern, if nothing else his ability to trail a play and blaze past slower defenders in search of Stone or Pacioretty. Playing fast is one thing. Playing fast alongside teammates adept at possessing the puck can translate to a completely different advantage.
¡¡¡¡The wow factor
¡¡¡¡¡°Ever since I fell in love with hockey, (speed) was a big part of my game,¡± Stephenson said. ¡°Even now in summer training, I want to be quicker and maintain it as I get older.
¡¡¡¡¡°MacKinnon is like a freak of nature, the type of skater he is. So powerful and explosive. That initial or second push, he¡¯s gone at top speed. You see and it kind of wows you.¡±
¡¡¡¡There wasn¡¯t much of a wow factor from MacKinnon on Friday, only the second time in these playoffs that he has been held without a point. But things can change in a blink, which is about the time it takes for Colorado to strike.
¡¡¡¡So while the Knights definitely need more scoring from their top line, shutting things down remains a primary goal. You need speed for that. Stephenson has it.
¡¡¡¡It might not be of the wow variety, but it¡¯s still plenty good.
¡¡¡¡Ed Graney is a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org 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.