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Stone savours possibility of making NHL debut

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Senators rookie Mark Stone wound up making his NHL debut on Saturday night in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference quarter-final against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images).

From Brandon to Broadway ... what a mighty leap it would be for Mark Stone.

And it just might happen tonight, when the Ottawa Senators and New York Rangers square off at Madison Square Garden (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200) in Game 5 of what has been a terrific Eastern Conference quarter-final series to date. The possibility of Stone, a high-scoring forward prospect, joining the battle has added even further intrigue to this story.

"It would be unbelievable," said Stone, 19, who would join Jason Spezza, Erik Karlsson, Wade Redden and Martin Havlat as the only teenagers to suit up for the Senators in a playoff game if he gets the chance tonight. "I've always had a dream of playing in the National Hockey League and to do it on this stage would be something special."

Senators head coach Paul MacLean hasn't confirmed yet whether that will happen. But with captain Daniel Alfredsson (concussion) and Jesse Winchester (upper body) back home in Ottawa, he clearly sees Stone — a 100-plus point scorer the past two seasons with the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey League — as someone who could give the offence a boost.

"He's a good young player and he had a great year," MacLean said of the 6-3, 196-pound Stone, who's a true force in front of the net. "He has great scoring ability, he's got good size and if we choose to use him, he might help on the power play."

Jumping into this situation what be the lastest chapter in what has been an amazing journey for Stone, a mostly unheralded talent with the Senators made him a sixth-round selection (178th overall) in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. But he has proven to be a revelation offensively with the Wheat Kings, for whom he racked up 78 goals and 229 points over the last two seasons.

His coming-out party for most of the nation, however, came during the 2012 world juniors, where he led Team Canada in scoring with seven goals and 10 points. It is a big-game stage Stone believes he can draw on tonight if he gets the chance.

"I learned a lot there and had a ton of fun," he said. "I really learned what pressure hockey is all about. It's the first time I ever played in front of a sold-out NHL building (in Calgary and Edmonton). That was very exciting."

It also told Stone, who skated on the fourth line with Jim O'Brien and Zenon Konopka during the Senators' pre-game skate today, that there a high level of hockey was potentially in his future.

"Playing in the world juniors was something special for me," he said. "I had some good success there, although it was disappointing not winning the gold medal (Canada took home the bronze). But at Christmas time when I was there, I thought I'd have a pretty good shot at playing pro."

Many of his Senators teammates were watching that tournament, too, and they're enthused about what the big Winnipeg native might be able to bring to their mix.

"Stoner had a great junior career," said forward Chris Neil. "I watched him at the world juniors this year and he's got a nice act around the net. He's a big body out there and he'll be full of energy, so it's going to be fun to see."

Added forward Nick Foligno: "He brings life and excitement. He's a proven goal scorer at the junior level. It's a little different up here, but he's excited to play and we're excited to have him in the lineup and see what he can contribute. He's excited for that challenge."

As a group, the Senators are enthused about the possibility of taking the series lead with a win tonight, then coming home with the chance to end it Monday night at Scotiabank Place. Ottawa split the first two games at MSG, taking a 3-2 overtime triumph in Game 2.

"We're confident that we're in the series and we've had success in this building," said centre Jason Spezza. "We know the fans are going to be amped up tonight and we have to be prepared for (the Rangers) to have a strong start. But we definitely feel like we belong in the series and we can win the series. We're down to a (best of) three series now and we're in a good spot."

Around the boards

Alfredsson, who's been sidelined with a concussion since taking an elbow from the Rangers' Carl Hagelin last Saturday in Game 2, skated on his own back in Ottawa today. It's the first time he's hit the ice since Monday. "He made progress," said MacLean ... Hagelin's three-game suspension ends tonight and he'll be eligible to return to the Blueshirts' lineup for Game 6 ... Redden (19 years, 309 days) is the youngest player to ever take part in a playoff game for the Senators, doing so on April 17, 1997, at Buffalo ... Just 17 teenagers have made their National Hockey League debuts in a Stanley Cup playoff game ... Fewer than 150 tickets remain for Game 6 on Monday.

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