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Photo Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Michael Stone deserves a ton of credit for his Game 4 performance

Michael Stone has been through a lot during his tenure with the Calgary Flames.

Playing in his sixth season with the team, Stone was inserted into the lineup for the Flames’ critical Game 4 against the Dallas Stars on Monday.

He didn’t look at all out of place. Stone fired a team-high eight shots on goal in just 10:12 of ice-time, including four shots in a span of just 30 seconds during the second period.

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The extended sequence in the offensive zone led to the Stars taking a penalty, which ultimately resulted in the Flames scoring the first goal of the game. They never looked back, cruising to a 4–1 victory and evening the series at two wins apiece.

Stone has played for four head coaches on five different contracts during his time with the Flames, most recently signing three consecutive league-minimum deals to remain with the team in a depth capacity.

The former Hitmen captain has settled in Calgary with his family and seems content to continue plying his trade with the Flames, no matter what role he’s been asked to play.

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During his tenure with the Flames, Stone has overcome more adversity than most players deal with in a full career. When he joined the Flames from the Arizona Coyotes in 2017, he was still in the process of recovering from off-season ACL surgery.

Once an effective top-four defender in the desert, Stone noticeably lost a step after the injury and saw his production plummet from 36 points in 2015–16 to just 15 in 2016–17.

While the Flames went on a massive winning streak immediately after Stone joined the team, he struggled to find his form the following season while in the first year of a pricey contract extension.

Things kept getting worse. Early in the 2018–19 season, Stone was diagnosed with a blood clot that kept him on the shelf for more than four months. By the time Stone was ready to return, Rasmus Andersson had stolen his spot on the Flames’ third pairing.

The Flames now had T.J. Brodie, Travis Hamonic, and Andersson ahead of Stone on the team’s defensive depth chart. The writing was on the wall, and the Flames bought out the final year of Stone’s $3.5 million-AAV contract in August 2019.

Less than two weeks later, Juuso Valimaki tore his ACL during off-season training. Suddenly, the Flames needed somebody to come in and help them out on defence.

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In a move that came as a surprise to many onlookers, the Flames brought back their former castoff on a one-year contract — at a significant discount ($700,000) from the cash he was pulling in before.

“I was the same as you — I wasn’t sure of the rules. I didn’t even know if it was allowed,” Stone told The Athletic at the time.

“I was here all summer, so [the buyout] was especially awkward,” Stone continued. “Just trying to go about with the same business-as-usual mentality. Which was hard.”

Stone appeared in 33 games with the Flames in 2019–20 before the COVID-19 pandemic threw a wrench into the end of the season. He didn’t play in the bubble playoffs, and the following season brought a new wrinkle into the equation:

The taxi squad.

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“I mean, I knew what I was signing up for, so I felt good about it,” Stone told FlamesNation in March 2021. “It was an opportunity for me to stay at home and stay with an organization that I believe in.

Stone also suited up for four games with the AHL’s Stockton Heat during the 2020–21 season, scoring two goals. It was a tough season for everyone in the NHL, but especially for those on the fringes: the players searching for another chance to prove their worth at the top level.

“It is what it is. It’s what we have to do this season, and that’s just where we’re at,” Stone said.

(One of Stone’s colleagues on the taxi squad and in the A that year was Louis Domingue, who only appeared in four games between the Heat and Flames all season long. Stone’s former Coyotes teammate is also thriving in the playoffs this year after being thrust into action with the Pittsburgh Penguins).

Stone played some of his best hockey as a Flame in his 21 NHL games down the stretch in 2020–21 and subsequently signed another one-year deal to remain in Calgary.

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Stuck behind Andersson, Chris Tanev, and Erik Gudbranson on the depth chart this year, Stone only appeared in 11 NHL games during the regular season. He managed to score six points, more than half of his output in 82 games back in 2017–18.

Stone has a rocket of a shot and he’s not afraid to use it. Both of his goals during the 2021–22 regular season came off absolute howitzers from up high in the offensive zone.

During Monday’s Game 4, Stone used his shot both as a means of testing Stars goaltender Jake Oettinger and as a deterrent against Dallas players clogging up the middle of the ice.

Just like a physical forward on the forecheck might wear his opponents down by throwing hard, clean checks, Stone is able to use his cannon of a shot to force defensive players to stay on the outside — or risk paying the price.

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Would you want to get in the way of a rocket by Stone? Just ask Alexander Radulov, who was taken out of the play after blocking a Stone shot during the first period, opening the door for the Flames to generate a high-end scoring opportunity.

No Flames player logged less ice-time than Stone’s 10:12 in Game 4. Nobody on either team fired more shots on goal than Stone’s eight.

Johnny Gaudreau, Elias Lindholm, Jacob Markstrom, and Rasmus Andersson clearly led the way for the Flames in Game 4. It was extremely satisfying to see Calgary win a playoff game thanks in large part to the positive contributions of its star players.

Make no mistake, though: Monday’s win was a team effort. Name ’em: Milan Lucic, Oliver Kylington, Trevor Lewis, Blake Coleman … they all played huge roles in the Flames’ series-tying victory.

You won’t see too many Michael Stone jerseys at the Scotiabank Saddledome. He’s not exactly the Flames’ highest-profile player, but he might just be the easiest to root for.

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