As it is often said, revenge can be sweet.
It couldn’t have been much sweeter Sunday night for three members of the Golden Knights as Vegas scored five unanswered goals to take a 5-2 win against the visiting Florida Panthers.
Headed into tonight’s game, much was made of the triumvirate-of-revenge storyline. While revenge has been a common theme this season considering every member of the expansion team was deemed expendable by a former franchise, it was an especially significant game for three members of the team — forwards Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith and head coach Gerard Gallant, who was fired by the Panthers a little over a year ago.
Just like James Neal scored against the Nashville Predators and Marc-Andre Fleury made 24 saves in a 2-1 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins, both Marchessault and Smith played pivotal roles in the Knights’ come-from-behind win, including combining on the icing-on-the-cake empty-net tally that put the game away at 17:50 of the third period. Marchessault finished the contest with three points, and Smith tallied two helpers in the winning effort.
But it wasn’t the prettiest game for the Golden Knights. In a somewhat unfamiliar twist, the Knights found themselves down 2-0 just over five minutes in after Panthers defenseman Mike Matheson scored on an uncontested shot from the slot.
Yikes. Matheson doubles the lead. Noooot the best start for Subban. pic.twitter.com/07Bc2iwJVe— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) December 18, 2017
Malcolm Subban, making his 10th start of the season, looked, dare we say it, mediocre early on after giving up a power-play goal to Radim Vrbata, who snapped a 17-game goalless drought.
However, there was no fear on the faces of the Knights. There was no panic in Gallant’s eyes. If there’s one thing that the Knights have demonstrated throughout the first few months of this inaugural season, it’s that this team does not get intimidated and does not cower.
Instead, the team kept fighting.
As such, just 1:26 after Matheson’s marker, Nate Schmidt got the Knights on the board with his second goal of the year, his first since Oct. 7. Notably, the primary assist belonged to Smith.
That's No. 2 for Schmidt this year. pic.twitter.com/4s53N7gPNe— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) December 18, 2017
The Knights delivered their second tally from the back end late in the first as Colin Miller drove home a blast to tie the game at 2-2. Fittingly, he scored his fifth of the season on a feed from Marchessault.
Despite the fact that the Knights tied up the game, the sloppy play continued into the middle frame, where the Knights went 0-for-2 on the power play and failed to generate much.
However, the Knights did what the Knights have done all year: they kept playing.
“Throughout the season, we keep going. Whatever the score is we keep playing until the buzzer and then check the score after,” Erik Haula said after the game. “We got some huge goals there late at the end of the first to tie things up. We just kept playing.”
In fact, eight seconds after the conclusion of the Knights’ third failed power play attempt, Haula re-directed a shot from, who else, Marchessault, to give the Knights their first lead of the game.
Haula’s goal, which proved to be the game-winner, was his 12th of the season and extended his point streak to six games.
From there, the Knights never looked back.
They finished off a dominant third period in which they held the Panthers to just two shots. While that would be an impressive feat against any team in the National Hockey League, it’s quite an accomplishment considering the Panthers lead the NHL in shots per game, averaging 35.1 per game this season.
“I thought we started to get our legs, I thought we started to forecheck real well, we made them make mistakes and the guys were starting to drive to the net,” Gallant said of the Knights’ third-period play. “We weren’t getting a whole lot done in the first two. But I thought we started putting pucks behind the net … then we started driving the net, and that’s a big part of it. Take pucks to the net, try to make those passes, and we weren’t turning pucks over in the third period.”
Vegas sealed the victory with two empty-net goals, the first by Marchessault on a pass from Smith and the second by Neal, his 16th of the season. Subban shut the door on the Panthers after surrendering the two early goals, making 16 saves as the Knights outshot the Panthers 29-9 in the final 40 minutes.
“The first period wasn’t good enough,” Haula said. “I feel like we got better as the game went on. But as a whole, we gotta realize we gotta be a lot better. As these games come up here, we play some really good teams. It wasn’t easy tonight by any means, but we found a way to win.”
Despite finishing 0-for-4 on the power play and 1-for-2 on the penalty kill, the Knights found a way to win, and it was a big win for all nine of the former Panthers currently employed by the Golden Knights organization.
“To be honest with you ... I just coached another game once you get in the heat of the moment,” Gallant said. “It wasn't much fun early when they went up 2-0. We weren't playing that well. I thought it was a little bit of a sloppy game the first half of the game and then after that I thought we played real well.”
Ryan Quigley and Danny Webster contributed to this report.