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Year 2, Game 65: Golden Knights come out on top in wild 6-5 shootout win against the Panthers

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Reilly Smith scored twice for the Knights in a game that featured 10 goals in regulation.

NHL: Florida Panthers at Vegas Golden Knights Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

In an absolutely thrilling back-and-forth barn-burner of a game, the Vegas Golden Knights picked up a crucial two points with a 6-5 shootout win against the Florida Panthers at T-Mobile Arena Thursday night.

Shea Theodore scored the lone goal in the shootout to help Vegas secure the extra point.

Malcolm Subban certainly did not have his best game of the season, giving up five goals on 37 shots, but he finally got the goal support he deserves, and he preserved his perfect shootout record by stopping all three of Florida’s attempts.

This was the kind of game that keeps coaches and goalies up at night, but for scorers and fans alike it was exhilarating. The see-saw matchup saw both teams score three unanswered goals at one point in the contest, and that thing they call a “lead” was not really a thing at all.

Recap

The Knights jumped out to a 1-0 lead on an unassisted strike by Paul Stastny just over three minutes into the opening frame.

Stastny was a jack of all trades on the play, winning the faceoff, driving to the net and finding twine.

However, Florida came storming back with three unanswered goals in the span of four minutes and 25 seconds, including two just 28 seconds apart, to give the Panthers what seemed like a commanding 3-1 lead after 20 minutes.

The first two came on the power play as Mike Hoffman reached the 30-goal mark for the first time in his career, while the third came off the stick of Aaron Ekblad just 28 seconds following Hoffman’s second.

But Vegas wanted in on the fun, so the Knights proceeded to score three unanswered goals of their own in the middle frame.

Former Panther Reilly Smith got things rolling when he scored this filthy between-the-legs beauty nearly eight minutes into the second.

Then Jon Merrill and Colin Miller followed suit, giving Vegas a 4-3 lead at 16:09 of the period.

But Florida had the last laugh through 40 minutes when Aleksander Barkov knotted things up at 4-4 in the final minute of the period.

The Panthers grabbed the lead once again when Jonathan Huberdeau picked up his fourth point of the game 3:18 into the third, but Smith potted his second of the game late in the period to keep the Knights alive. Back and forth we go.

Fittingly, the game went to overtime and eventually a shootout, where Subban and Theodore came up huge.

Analysis

For the second straight game, Mark Stone did not find the scoresheet; however, the Knights are now 2-0-0 with him in the lineup. Plus, the new-look second line featuring Stastny, Stone and Max Pacioretty had another outstanding game, managing Corsi For percentages of 83.87, 80 and 75.76, respectively.

Smith had his first two-goal game of the season and lit the lamp at key moments in the game. The first line hasn’t been the go-to source for offense this year, but it’s clear this unit is starting to heat up at exactly the right time.

Also, Theodore had one of his best games of the season, picking up two assists as well as the shootout winner to go along with seven shots, one hit, three takeaways and a plus-three rating in 23:07 of ice time. He made strong plays throughout the game and finished the night with a 70.27 CF% at 5-on-5.

One area of concern continues to be special teams, though. Vegas only had one opportunity on the man advantage but failed to capitalize at a critical moment in the game. Also, Florida went 2-for-2 on the power play in the first period, which completely changed the tone of the game after Vegas seemed to be in control.

However, despite giving up five goals, the Knights played quite well from a possession standpoint and registered 40-plus shots for the second game in a row. Vegas held the edge in CF% (61.76) as well as high-danger CF% (56.52) and controlled play for much of the game.

That being said, the Knights gave up too many chances in tight, as seen in the heat map from tonight’s game.

The dark blue area in front of the crease is something Vegas needs to clean up; it’s no surprise Florida struck twice from this area, scoring two of its three even-strength goals from the crease.

There were four Knights (five including Subban) around the crease in this sloppy play, but Huberdeau still managed to score. That can’t happen.

It may not have been pretty, but at this point of the season a win is a win, and the Knights will take the points any way they can get them. This is especially true since the Coyotes won in regulation earlier tonight, so Vegas’ win preserves the team’s six-point lead over Arizona.

Vegas has a quick turnaround with a game in Anaheim tomorrow night. That kicks off a crucial stretch of five straight games against Pacific Division opponents, including two games against the Flames.

The final stretch has officially arrived.