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Jonathan Marchessault saves the day, but tougher challenge lies ahead for Golden Knights

After sitting out Friday, the winger was the overtime hero 24 hours later.

NHL: Vegas at Arizona Coyotes Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Savior from mass hysteria, thy name is Jonathan Marchessault.

That’s where the Vegas Golden Knights were heading after blowing a two-goal lead in the third period. That was until Marchessault went from goat to G.O.A.T. on Saturday at Gila River Arena.

Marchessault’s game-winner 3:04 into overtime gave the Golden Knights a 3-2 victory against the Arizona Coyotes, giving Vegas its 11th win in 12 games and maintaining a four-point cushion on the Colorado Avalanche for first place in the West Division.

The Coyotes were assessed a too-many-men penalty at 2:35 of the extra frame. Marchessault took the pass from Alex Pietrangelo at the left circle and buried the one-timer past Darcy Kuemper.

“We had a timeout there, had a set play,” Marchessault said. “The first play I executed wasn’t the best play. After we wanted to get back into position and just play hockey and we were able to execute.”

It’s that time of the year where it doesn’t matter how the Golden Knights win; just make it happen. The analytics and eye tests can be evaluated later. Any loss, with a healthy Colorado team looming, could be damaging.

And the Golden Knights were well on their way to that Saturday night. Vegas took a 2-0 lead into the third period behind goals from William Karlsson and Mark Stone. The Knights had a 16-3 edge in shots after the first period, and despite being outshot 12-8 in the second, kept Arizona to the outside for most of it.

Arizona struggled to push in the third, but found momentum by way of a fortuitous bounce toward the way of Christian Fischer. His goal at 9:04 of the third period cut the lead to 2-1 and was the push the Coyotes needed to tie it. Nick Schmaltz nearly converted on a 2-on-1 shortly after, but an uncharacteristic roughing penalty from Nicolas Hague gave the Arizona power play another shot at life.

Against the top penalty-killing unit in the league, one that killed 21 in a row, Christian Fischer tied it at 14:48.

“There’s always teaching moments,” said coach Pete DeBoer. “Having said that, I think we’ve been a real disciplined team this year, and I think the statistics show that. I don’t think it’s an issue, but it’s always a reminder when the other team makes you pay for it.”

Evaluating a game like this is difficult. On one hand, the Golden Knights tip their cap to a team trying to find any points left to squeeze their way into the Stanley Cup Playoff picture. On the other hand, from dominating a game for 50 minutes and nearly choking it away in the final 10 is quite the roller coaster.

Marchessault nearly gave the game away before his goal by being called for slashing with 2:40 remaining in regulation.

“I didn’t want to take a penalty there at the end. I was going for the puck there, and [Lawson] Crouse came across the grain there and I got him right there on the wrist. It was an easy call for the ref.”

Stone called Friday’s 3-0 loss an emotional letdown after defeating Colorado on Wednesday. The Golden Knights took care of business for 10 straight games and put themselves in a position for one night off. You could chalk up the final 10 minutes Saturday to easing off the gas. Nevertheless, they got the win. Again, that’s all that matters this time of year.

But the path to the No. 1 seed in not just the West side of the bracket, but the Stanley Cup Playoffs as a whole, doesn’t get easier.

Six games remain, five of them against the Avalanche (once), St. Louis Blues (twice) and Minnesota Wild (twice). The Golden Knights have to go through their playoff field if they want home-ice advantage. That starts Monday in St. Paul, where the Golden Knights are a lifetime 1-5-0 in the Wild’s barn. This season, Vegas is 2-3-1 against the Wild, and lifetime is 4-9-1.

“We could see them in the playoffs,” Marchessault said. “It’s on us to make sure we play the right way.”

The Golden Knights have had a few statement-making wins this season, notably against Colorado, as it should be. Do it against Minnesota, though, and carry that momentum to a half-packed T-Mobile Arena this weekend, and that’s more than a statement.

“You want to try and win every game at the end. There’s teams trying to catch up,” Karlsson said. “To get a win tonight was huge.”