Whenever Patrick Brown gets into the Golden Knights lineup, it’s noteworthy.
Once again, he delivered when called upon.
Brown, who had not played for the Golden Knights since April 3, played fourth-line center and scored the game-tying goal in the Golden Knights’ 5-2 victory against the Minnesota Wild in Game 3 of the teams’ first-round series at Xcel Energy Center on Thursday.
The Golden Knights lead the best-of-7 series 2-1 with Game 4 on Saturday.
“It was great. My linemates got me going early,” Brown said. “I thought [Ryan Reaves] and [William Carrier] were flying. I felt fresh. ... I was ready to go.”
Brown replaced the injured Tomas Nosek, only the forward’s fifth appearance with the NHL club this season. The 28-year-old Brown had eight points in nine games as captain of the Henderson Silver Knights when this condensed COVID season began.
This was Brown’s third playoff game with the Golden Knights. He played twice in their first-round series in the Edmonton bubble last season against the Chicago Blackhawks, scoring a goal in Game 3 while filling in for the injured Nosek.
That Chicago series didn’t hold as much weight as this Minnesota tilt does.
While the Golden Knights entered Game 3 carrying momentum, winning 3-1 in Game 2 and salvaging a split at home, they were entering an arena they had only won twice all-time at — once in overtime, the other a shootout. The Golden Knights would need to play a near-perfect game — sort of like how the final 30 minutes unfolded in Game 2 — to steal back home-ice advantage.
And for the first 20 minutes, that didn’t happen. The Golden Knights trailed 2-0 at the end of the first, giving up two goals just outside the blue paint. They had only four attempts — not shots — at 5-on-5 in the first period.
Much like Game 2, the second period was the culprit behind Vegas’ offensive surge in Game 3. The Golden Knights scored three times in just under nine minutes in the middle stanza. Mark Stone scored first at 8:39 to cut the Wild lead to 2-1.
Brown played 9:11 on Thursday; only Reaves (8:09) played less. The fourth line has been a maligned group defensively, but when they move the puck on top of using an aggressive forecheck, it can be a usable trio in the opponent’s zone. That goes for whoever’s at center. With Brown, he always appears to be in the right place at the right time.
Case in point, his goal at 15:19 to tie the game.
Brown got taken down by Wild center Nico Sturm after Reaves and Carrier worked to clear the puck out of the corner. Nick Holden, playing in place of Nicolas Hague, gathered the puck and dumped it in behind the net. As Brown went down, he got tangled with Sturm’s stick. It goes flying toward the boards, allowing Brown all the space in front to deflect it past Cam Talbot.
“We definitely wanted to play in their end,” Brown said. “That’s what that line does. I think that helps the whole team when we can roll four lines and coaches have confidence in us to put us out there and wear the other team out in the o-zone, bang some bodies and hold that puck, and hopefully, a couple go in. Happy we were able to contribute tonight.”
In a span of almost seven minutes, the Golden Knights went from being slapped around by Minnesota and facing a 2-1 series deficit, to somehow putting all the pressure on the Wild heading into Saturday. The paradigm shifted because of Brown’s goal.
And it’s not just the matter of Brown being thrown into the lineup of a must-win game. Brown tore his hamstring almost two months ago, coach Pete DeBoer said after the game. He came back for his first game in a hot minute and scored one of the biggest goals of the game.
“You can’t say enough about him,” DeBoer said. “We throw him into Game 3 of the playoffs and he gives us the kind of minutes he gives us, and the big goal. He oozes character and intangibles, and a great teammate, great guy to have around.”
DeBoer has long admired the depth at his disposal. It extends beyond Brown. Holden played in his first game with Vegas since April 9 and had two assists — on the game-tying and go-ahead goals — for his first multipoint game in the playoffs.
On a night where it appeared Cody Glass would be re-inserted into the lineup, DeBoer stuck to his guns and let the veterans on standby get Vegas to an improbable victory.
All of a sudden, the Golden Knights have a series lead, when just 72 hours ago, that seemed impossible. They went from being shut out in Game 1, putting 42 shots on Talbot with no result in sight, to scoring eight times in two games.
It’s a mystery how long Brown stays in the lineup, but if DeBoer is in a pinch, he has a guy he can rely on for that bottom six.