Hockey fans were treated with a big-time matchup Thursday night as the Vegas Golden Knights traveled to Manitoba to take on the Winnipeg Jets at Bell MTS Place. The two best teams in the Western Conference had already met twice prior to this contest, with both Vegas and Winnipeg winning one apiece in the season series.
Unsurprisingly, this game turned out to be one of the most exciting games of Vegas’ inaugural season (despite a sloppy start to the contest).
The Jets opened up the scoring with just under five minutes remaining in the first period. Marc-Andre Fleury skated behind his own net to play a loose puck, but Matt Hendricks beat him to the punch and sent the puck into the goal crease, where Joel Armia scored what will likely be on of the easiest goals of his career.
The Golden Knights had a few solid chances of their own in the first period, but they weren’t able to capitalize on any of them. Reilly Smith was particularly strong throughout the night, though, and he had multiple chances from high-danger areas of the ice early on.
As good as Smith was in the first period, he only got better in the middle third. Smith, who’s been a force on the Golden Knights’ penalty kill all season, scored a shorthanded tally to tie the game up with just under eight minutes remaining in the middle third. After laying the body on Jets captain Blake Wheeler, Smith picked up the loose puck, went in all alone and beat Connor Hellebuyck cleanly with a sick wrister from the right faceoff circle. Doesn’t get much better than this, folks.
For the remainder of the period, the Golden Knights looked completely different from what they showed in the game’s first 30 minutes. And it didn’t take long for them to build even more momentum.
With 90 seconds remaining in the period, Erik Haula scored his 19th goal of the season (and his fourth in as many games) to give Vegas the 2-1 lead. The Jets challenged the call on the ice for goaltender interference, but the goal stood.
Naturally, the Winnipeg bench wasn’t very happy with the call on the ice.
The Jets didn’t let up, though. In the final period, Kyle Connor scored the game-tying goal with under three minutes left in regulation. A little reminiscent of the Golden Knights’ comeback win over the Calgary Flames Tuesday night, huh?
While the Jets didn’t end up scoring three goals in 53 seconds like Vegas did against Calgary, their frantic effort to send the game to overtime paid off.
Unfortunately for Winnipeg, it was the Golden Knights who would walk out of Bell MTS Place with the two points. David Perron, who always seems to play his best hockey beyond regulation, beat Hellebuyck to give Vegas the 3-2 overtime win.
Had it not been for Haula and Jonathan Marchessault, though, Perron’s goal likely wouldn’t have even happened. With Fleury down and out and a mad scramble ensuing in front of the net, Haula made a clutch block to keep a Josh Morrissey slapper from crossing the goal line.
Seconds later, Marchessault made a big defensive play of his own. With bodies piled on top of Fleury and the puck sitting dangerously close to the goal line, Marchessault swooped in like a freakin’ eagle to keep the game tied.
Another night, another astounding win by the Golden Knights. This win, however, is a little more special than normal. With this victory, the Golden Knights have broken the record for most wins by an expansion team in its inaugural season, which is undoubtedly a huge accomplishment for a hockey team many (including myself) didn’t think had a chance to realistically compete.
Yet here we are.
Vegas is literally the greatest expansion team in NHL history. And they still have 32 games left to play!
Soak it in, folks. We may never see anything like this ever again.