Hockey's newest rivalry wrote its first chapter Sunday evening as the two top teams in the Pacific Division, the Vegas Golden Knights and Los Angeles Kings, went to war in front of a T-Mobile Arena record crowd of 18,211 fans in their first ever matchup (regular season or playoffs).
Few things in sports are as fierce, tense and prone to awe-inspiring lunacy and chaos as rivalries. True, passionate, vengeful rivalries are where many of the best moments in sports come from and in the landscape of the sporting world, there are many great ones.
The Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees. Auburn and Alabama. Michigan and Ohio State. Bird and Magic. Ali and Frasier. The Chicago Cubs and a goat. The NFL and basically every one of its players. The Cleveland Browns and winning football games.
And while the first game in the Knights-Kings rivalry did not quite live up to the those storied rivalries in the early going, it did offer up a dramatic finish that saw the Golden Knights, on the back of three first period goals (two of which by newly-nicknamed King Slayer William Karlsson), as well as 27 saves by goalie Maxime Lagace, collect their seventh straight home win by a score of 4-2.
Karlsson, the aforementioned King Slayer, opened up the scoring just 55 seconds into the first period, his eighth on the season, to give the Knights a 1-0 lead. He wouldn’t be done there, but we’ll get back to him shortly.
Cody Eakin built on that lead later in the frame with a snipe five-hold on Jonathan Quick.
Why is Patrick Kane wearing a Cody Eakin jersey? pic.twitter.com/E5WOZH0Lkc— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) November 20, 2017
It wasn’t all snipes for the Golden Knights, though. They were also the recipients of some bad puck handling by Quick as they capitalized on a bad turnover by the two-time Stanley Cup champion behind his own goal. And it was none other than Karlsson to pot his ninth goal, and second in the game.
This is amazing work by Karlsson to avoid a kick-in. pic.twitter.com/kIwVXPm988— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) November 20, 2017
Thus closed the book on Quick's night after just six saves on nine shots in the first period. Darcy Kuemper took over in net in an effort to stop the bleeding and give his team a chance to get back into the game (SPOILER: he actually did).
On the other side of the ice, Lagace was brilliant. Despite a 15-minute stretch between the second and third periods where the Golden Knights held L.A. to no shots on goal, he was tested on multiple occasions by the Kings as they pressed to try and get back into the game.
What a stop by Lagace (feat. Nate Schmidt). pic.twitter.com/bYSnu9UFKb— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) November 20, 2017
Unfortunately for the French-Canadian netminder, he too was the victim of a bad turnover which led to the first Kings goal of the night.
Turnovers in the defensive zone are never a good idea. pic.twitter.com/qdEPZ6qLGY— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) November 20, 2017
The game eventually found its chippier side in the third period as both teams battled for momentum. Jake Muzzin blasted William Carrier in front of the net, while former-King Brayden McNabb flattened Dustin Brown with a hard hit of his own. Though there were no fights, the two sides clearly found the inner-hatred befitting rivals as the game went along.
With 8:15 to play in the third period, the Kings found a way to solve Lagace again as Tanner Pearson brought the game to within a single goal with his fourth on the season.
Aaaaaand there's the goal the Kings were looking for. pic.twitter.com/ZaAHJl4rnc— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) November 20, 2017
As mentioned, Kuemper kept his team in the game with what was a heroic effort saving all 30 shots he faced in relief, including saves to keep the game to within one.
Marchessault is in disbelief. Huge stop by Kuemper. pic.twitter.com/EOzplO20ip— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) November 20, 2017
In the dying minutes of the game the Kings threw everything they had at Lagace trying to find a weakness in the armor of the young Knight. With all chaos breaking loose around him, with pucks and bodies flying everywhere, Lagace remained calm and strong in goal for the Knights.
In a performance truly deserving of going down in the lore of what is to be a long-standing rivalry between these two teams, the rookie goalie saved shot after shot, denying the Kings the tying goal they so desperately sought, allowing for his team to put the game away on an Alex Tuch empty netter.
You could say the Kings took the defeat well.
The win moves the Golden Knights (12-6-1) just one point back of the Kings (12-7-2) in the Pacific Division standings with two games in hand. Perhaps even more importantly, it serves as notice to the rest of the Western Conference that the Golden Knights, despite using their fourth-string goalie, despite being an expansion team and despite being a group of cast-offs, are for real.
And they are here to stay.
Vegas is back in action Wednesday night as they travel to Anaheim to take on the ailing Ducks.