The Vegas Golden Knights entered the third period down 2-1 against (surprisingly) one of the NHL’s worst teams Tuesday night. Thanks to a late second period penalty by the Chicago Blackhawks, Vegas was given an abbreviated power play to start the final third, which ended up being one of the critical moments of the contest.
Brad Hunt scored on the man advantage to knot the game up at two apiece. From there, the floodgates had opened. Minutes later, Reilly Smith scored his 17th of the season to give Vegas the 3-2 lead. Not long after that, David Perron padded the lead with Vegas’ third goal on as many shots.
This is the latest of numerous occasions in which the Golden Knights rallied in the third period to pick up two points. While Hunt’s power play tally had a major impact on the game’s final result, that certainly wasn’t the only thing that gave Vegas the advantage.
1. Marc-Andre Fleury’s penalty shot save a turning point
Just three minutes into the middle period, Chicago was awarded a penalty shot after Fleury tripped Patrick Sharp by sliding a loose stick into his lane. Sharp, 36, is no stranger to scoring clutch goals, but Fleury, who had been fantastic throughout the contest, would end up getting the better of him on the penalty shot.
Sharp tried to beat Fleury with a glove side wrister, but he was denied by the 33-year-old goaltender, which turned out to be a major turning point of the contest. Had Chicago converted on the penalty shot, the Blackhawks would have taken a much earlier 2-1 lead to potentially shift the momentum in their favor. Fleury, though, was having none of it.
Fleury hadn’t been playing his best hockey as of late, either. Prior to Tuesday’s victory, Fleury had allowed three or more goals in four consecutive games, so it’s good to see him getting back on track with a clutch performance against Chicago.
2. James Neal is one tough son of a gun
Aside from Fleury, Neal may have been the star of the game. Late in the first period, Neal took a Brad Hunt slapshot to the knee that sent him crumbling to the ice in pain. At first glance, it looked ugly.
Neal took a Brad Hunt blast right to the knee. He went straight to the locker room. Needed assistance getting off the ice. pic.twitter.com/sC4HRYIxnY— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) February 14, 2018
After missing the remainder of the first period and a portion of the second period, Neal amazingly returned to the game and went on to register a helper on David Perron’s third period tally. He also made an impact on Hunt’s game-tying goal early in the final third, taking away Jeff Glass’ eyes so Hunt’s wrister could find its way into the net.
This isn’t the kind of performance that’ll make headlines, but Neal certainly deserves some stick taps for playing through the pain and continuing to make an impact in the game’s most pivotal moments.
3. Ryan Carpenter continues his strong play
I was admittedly none too pleased when the Golden Knights initially scratched Brendan Leipsic in favor of Carpenter earlier this month. However, Carpenter has really come into his own over the last couple weeks. The 27-year-old scored his third goal in five games against Chicago and continues to make plays as a member of the fourth line. It remains to be seen whether he will stay in the lineup when William Carrier is activated off injured reserve (undisclosed), but his recent play simply can’t go unmentioned.
4. Tomas Nosek gives the fourth line a boost
Nosek has been out of the lineup for nearly a month, but he made an impactful return against Chicago. Not only did Nosek secure Vegas’ win by scoring an empty-net goal in the game’s dying minutes, but he was also on the ice for Carpenter’s game-tying tally in the first period and played a significant role in shutting down Chicago’s top lines late in the game.
Nosek isn’t a household name, but he’s been a key cog on the Golden Knights’ fourth line (when healthy) all season continues to prove to the folks who wanted Vegas to select Petr Mrazek in the expansion draft that George McPhee and company made the right decision.
5. The Golden Knights may be souring on Cody Eakin
Eakin’s ice time has steadily decreased throughout the season. In October, the 26-year-old center accumulated over 207 minutes of ice time. In January, however, his ice time dropped to a total of just 155 minutes. Eakin is on pace for even less ice time in February, as he’s averaging just over 11 minutes of time on ice since the month began. Eakin was given a season-low 9:42 of ice time against Chicago Tuesday night.
Things certainly aren’t trending in the right direction for Vegas’ expansion draft selection from the Dallas Stars. It’s been over a month since Eakin scored a goal (Jan. 5). To his defense, he has never been known as an offensive dynamo, but for a player making nearly $4 million per year through the 2019-20 season, Eakin will need to pick things up in order to avoid potentially being bought out at the end of the season.