The Vegas Golden Knights are ending 2017 on a seven-game winning streak.
Despite a clutch performance from Auston Matthews, the Golden Knights held off the Toronto Maple Leafs (thanks in large part to William Karlsson and Shea Theodore) to take the 6-3 victory Sunday evening.
Matthews finished the game with two goals and eclipsed 100 points in his career. It seemed like it would be hard to outscore him, but Karlsson finished the game with a hat trick — not only his first, but the first in Golden Knights history. His fourth point of the game was a primary assist on Jonathan Marchessault's 14th goal of the season.
The heroes of the game were the first line, who excelled in the offensive zone, as well as the "fourth" line. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare scored his fourth goal of the season to kick off the game. Bellemare and Tomas Nosek did excellent work all game long, both at even strength and on the penalty kill.
The "Golden Knights' power play needs to be better" drum is getting worn out. But a drum that will never get worn down is that of Theodore, who's amazing playmaking ability created Marchessault's tally.
Reminder that the Anaheim Ducks gave this guy away for nothing. pic.twitter.com/oPgLTEFmhH— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) December 31, 2017
At some point, all five Maple Leafs defenders were on Theodore, and yet he still found a passing lane and room to operate. Thanks, Anaheim!
A full look at that goal:
Jonathan Marchessault finishes, but look at this freakin' zone entry by Shea Theodore. pic.twitter.com/8oYiZEkJ3y— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) December 31, 2017
It's not a bad way to finish a play, with Karlsson on the edge of the net and Marchessault out front. But the glory needs to go to Theo. The term "secondary assist" has just been re-defined.
Bellemare's goal to kick off scoring wasn't half bad either:
Great feed by Alex Tuch. pic.twitter.com/sUnLBo8TGs— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) December 31, 2017
That's a shootout-quality goal at full strength. Alex Tuch and Brendan Leipsic did a lot of work to generate their chance, especially after missing on a chance of their own. The puck gets kept in the offensive zone, and then Bellemare finished it.
Bellemare doesn't get enough credit offensively. He's been great at generating chances all season, it's just a matter of him getting the puck in the net.
Later, this beautiful breakaway put the Golden Knights up 2-0 in the first five minutes:
Great pass from Reilly Smith on the odd-man rush. pic.twitter.com/sNel3m4kdt— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) December 31, 2017
Karlsson's first goal of the night. Smith's 20th assist of the season. One Erik Haula shot nine minutes later, and the Golden Knights ended the first period up 3-0.
And then the Maple Leafs got back in it with a goal from Patrick Marleau, who just barely beats Malcolm Subban's outstretched leg:
This is pretty. pic.twitter.com/w3DPkMUpKy— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) December 31, 2017
Subban had a couple almost-saves like that, including on Matthews' first goal, where Subban touched the puck with his glove. The other Matthews goal was challenged for interference, but the only guy doing the interfering was Nate Schmidt. That goal made it 4-3. Theodore's effort and Marchessault's goal changed the game.
Legitimately the coolest empty net goal I've ever seen. pic.twitter.com/1a4HAEtGgC— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) December 31, 2017
Everything is working against Karlsson here. He's going to the ground and getting tackled by Morgan Rielly. But "Wild Bill" gets the puck up and centered, and it floats in. The crowd's reaction:
William Karlsson with the hat trick! First in franchise history, and the Golden Knights have wrapped this up. pic.twitter.com/OoeGgCKUFy— Danny Webster (@DannyWebster21) December 31, 2017
The hats make their way to the ice for the first time in Vegas history. A great way to send off a magnificent 2017.
The Golden Knights will get back to work next year (get it?). They will take on the Nashville Predators on Jan. 2. No battle of the Subbans, though. With Malcolm getting the start here, it will likely be Marc-Andre Fleury against PK.