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Stephenson’s season-long resiliency peaks during big night

December 13, 2021 GMT
Vegas Golden Knights center Chandler Stephenson (20) shoots against Dallas Stars goaltender Braden Holtby (70) during the second period of an NHL hockey game Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/David Becker)
Vegas Golden Knights center Chandler Stephenson (20) shoots against Dallas Stars goaltender Braden Holtby (70) during the second period of an NHL hockey game Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/David Becker)
Vegas Golden Knights center Chandler Stephenson (20) shoots against Dallas Stars goaltender Braden Holtby (70) during the second period of an NHL hockey game Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/David Becker)
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Vegas Golden Knights center Chandler Stephenson (20) shoots against Dallas Stars goaltender Braden Holtby (70) during the second period of an NHL hockey game Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/David Becker)
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Vegas Golden Knights center Chandler Stephenson (20) shoots against Dallas Stars goaltender Braden Holtby (70) during the second period of an NHL hockey game Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/David Becker)

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Vegas Golden Knights center Chandler Stephenson was without injured linemates Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty for nearly a month.

Stephenson skated with 11 different line combinations, from the first through the third lines to support the injury-ravaged Knights, and tied for the team lead with 10 points with Jonathan Marchessault during the 12 games both Stone and Pacioretty missed time.

On Sunday, it was the team supporting Stephenson as he helped lead the Knights to a 6-4 victory over the Minnesota Wild after the 27-year-old missed his first game of the season two days earlier. Considering his resiliency throughout the season, it came as no surprise Stephenson registered a career-high four assists after missing Friday so he could attend his grandmother’s funeral.

“What a tribute, if you’re a hockey player, to a loved one that’s passed,” Vegas coach Peter DeBoer said. “When you consider the fact he flew to western Canada, attended the funeral, flew back on fumes here to give us a game like that — that’s pretty exceptional and a great tribute.”

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Stephenson has been quite the discovery since being acquired from Washington on Dec. 2, 2019, for a fifth-round pick in the 2021 NHL draft, going from a bottom-six forward with the Capitals to skating between two of Vegas’ most dangerous offensive players while emerging as one as well.

Since arriving in Vegas, Stephenson is sixth on the team with 52 assists, tied with William Karlsson with 31 goals, and ranks seventh with 83 points.

Against the Wild, Vegas’ top line of Stephenson (career-high four assists), Stone (goal, two assists) and Pacioretty (goal, two assists) combined for 10 points as Vegas won for the ninth time in 12 home games.

“Just a special night; I lost my grandma,” said an emotional Stephenson, who leads the team with 26 points. “I think she was helping me tonight with that one. I’ve never had four points, so something needs to be said about that. It’s tough and a sad couple of days, but I’ve had a lot of support here. Team, staff, players, everyone was there for me. It helps you get through it.”

Stephenson was in on the team’s first goal, feeding Pacioretty from the high slot to send three Minnesota defenders to the left side of the zone. Zach Whitecloud pinched in unannounced behind the defenders, took the feed from Pacioretty, and promptly gave Vegas a 1-0 lead.

Later, with the game tied in the first, Stephenson skated into the left circle, once again drawing defenders away, and sent the puck down low to Stone. A touch pass from Stone landed on the blade of Evgenii Dadonov for a one-timer to put Vegas back on top.

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With the game tied 3-3 midway through the second, Stone stripped Minnesota star Kirill Kaprizov and nudged the puck to a streaking Stephenson, whose feed through two defenders set Pacioretty up for a breakaway that gave Vegas a one-goal lead.

Finally, on what would be the game-winner, Stephenson’s touch pass off a feed from Shea Theodore went cross-ice to Pacioretty, whose one-timer rebounded to Stone, who tucked it home from the backdoor.

“It’s really tough to see teammates go through stuff like that, emotional for all of us,” Stone said. “But to get him back, for him to put together that kind of performance together for us was inspirational, something that we needed as a team.”

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