The Vegas Golden Knights are back in the win column.
After suffering five consecutive regulation losses for the first time in franchise history, the Knights delivered in a promising 5-3 win against the Florida Panthers Thursday night at T-Mobile Arena.
The Knights were able to put an end to a demoralizing stretch, but the cost of the victory remains unclear.
Jack Eichel blocked a shot with his arm in the second period. He went down the tunnel but came back later in the frame; however, he was not on the bench to start the third period, and the Knights later announced that he would not return to the game due to an upper-body injury. Pete DeBoer did not have an update following the game.
Aside from yet another tough break on the injury front, the Golden Knights played their best game in quite some time.
They had a few fresh faces in the lineup as both Brett Howden and Mattias Janmark were back in action. The back end also featured a new face as Derrick Pouliot made his Golden Knights debut just hours after signing a one-year deal. He has spent the 2021-22 season with Henderson but helped fill the void on a thin Vegas blue line.
The former first-round pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins skated on the third pairing with Daniil Miromanov, who was recalled ahead of the game.
Logan Thompson got his fourth start of the season after a tough relief appearance for Laurent Brossoit the other night in Winnipeg. He bounced back in a big way, stopping 33 of 36 shots and helping the Knights by holding Florida to two goals on 28 shots in the first two periods.
He had to be strong early, as the pace was electric from the start. It was a somewhat risky strategy against the best offense in the league, but the Knights were able to generate enough prime scoring chances of their own, and Thompson stopped 15 of 16 in the opening period.
William Karlsson had one such grade-A chance in front of the Florida net but was robbed by Panthers goaltender Spencer Knight.
As is often the case, a huge save at one end preceded a goal at the other.
It was Carter Verhaeghe who opened the scoring, beating Thompson after getting behind the Vegas defense and driving to the net. Thompson challenged Verhaeghe and forced the initial shot wide, but Verhaeghe stayed with the play and potted his second-chance opportunity to give Florida the 1-0 lead 8:04 into the contest.
Verhaeghe got a breakaway shortly thereafter but crashed into Thompson, whose leg appeared to twist awkwardly before hitting the post hard. Thompson was slow to get up but remained in the game.
The Knights continued to push, and eventually the fourth line broke through.
Keegan Kolesar sent a behind-the-back feed to open ice, which Michael Amadio retrieved; he flipped the puck over to Howden, who drove to the net and beat Knight far-side, evening things up at 1-1 in the final three minutes of the period.
In his return to the lineup, Brett Howden makes an immediate impact!— AT&T SportsNet™ | RM West (@ATTSportsNetRMW) March 18, 2022
FLA 1 | VGK 1, 1st INT pic.twitter.com/gy2XJlO7JT
It was Howden’s first game back after missing seven; he has 10 points in his last 14 games.
Pouliot also found the scoresheet in his first game with the big club.
He was credited with the lone assist on Evgenii Dadonov’s first of two second-period tallies against his former team, which gave the Knights a 2-1 lead 5:38 into the middle frame.
Dadonov cut into the middle of the ice and sniped the puck over Knight’s shoulder; it was vintage Dadonov, something he hasn’t shown much in his time with Vegas.
Evgenii Dadonov with the go-ahead goal!— AT&T SportsNet™ | RM West (@ATTSportsNetRMW) March 18, 2022
FLA 1 | VGK 2, 2nd period pic.twitter.com/7JquVQsc9N
But he appeared hungry for revenge and scored again just six seconds into a Vegas power play later in the frame. Dadonov’s 14th of the season gave the Knights a two-goal lead at 14:32 of the second.
However, Florida responded to make it 3-2 before the end of the period.
Thompson stopped the initial shot, but the puck hit Pouliot’s skate and bounced to Anthony Duclair, who found the wide-open Sam Bennett for the tap-in.
25 goals on the season for Sam Bennett pic.twitter.com/cS60BgnTEk— Florida Panthers (@FlaPanthers) March 18, 2022
The Panthers got the next goal as well.
Though Vegas demonstrated great discipline for the majority of the game, it only took one penalty to fall victim to Florida’s power play.
The Panthers scored at 12:26 of the third to knot things up at 3-3 as Sam Reinhart got a piece of a point shot by Aaron Ekblad.
Officially credited to Reino who gets a piece in front ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/a1a6j5XtMT— Florida Panthers (@FlaPanthers) March 18, 2022
It was the third time the Panthers scored after getting behind the Vegas defense, as Reinhart was left alone in front to set the screen.
But Vegas responded quickly.
Nicolas Roy broke up a pass attempt by the falling Bennett, got a step on Gustav Forsling and was off to the races. He worked his magic on the breakaway, beating Knight with his go-to backhand move to regain the lead.
Roy’s goal came 57 seconds after Reinhart’s and turned out to be the game-winner.
Karlsson later scored an empty-net goal to seal the 5-3 win; it was his first goal in 16 games and capped off an impressive performance by the Knights.
It was a critical win for a Golden Knights team that was fading out of the playoff picture and desperate to rebound from five consecutive losses.
The two points allow Vegas to remain in the second wildcard seed with 70 points, which is especially key on a night when both Edmonton and Dallas won their respective matchups.
However, with Eichel exiting the game and missing the third period with an injury, it’s difficult to classify the 5-3 victory as a true win as the injury gods continue to strike.
Vegas is now without Eichel, Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty, Reilly Smith, Brayden McNabb, Alec Martinez, Nicolas Hague, Ben Hutton and Robin Lehner.
The Knights host the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday before a road back-to-back against Minnesota and Winnipeg next week.