For the times that we’ve done The Morning After, it’s been done by times of pure Nirvana and ridiculous happenings.
What happened Thursday could not be put into words.
While the plan was to put together a gargantuan amount of words on Jon Merrill shattering the hockey universe as we know it, there may not be enough words in such a lexicon.
But Merrill played forward on Thursday for the first time in, what he says, 13 years. Tomas Nosek is a dad, and something happened to Jonathan Marchessault (lower body, day-to-day). As a result, the Vegas Golden Knights had to go with 11 forwards and seven defensemen, something coach Gerard Gallant has vocalized not being a fan of.
Maybe Thursday is the moment where Gallant comes around on the concept. Highly unlikely, but for one night, it’s a workable notion.
In the midst of the 2:45 that the Golden Knights went from down one to up 3-1, Merrill had his one shining moment that put March Madness to shame. It might have been the culmination in what was the best display of resilient hockey the Golden Knights have shown this season.
Facing a team that has dominated them in their barn, after falling behind 1-0 on a goal from Claude Giroux, the Golden Knights answered with a four-goal first period. It was highlighted by two goals from Max Pacioretty, who normally would be the talk of the postgame chatter had it not been his teammate stealing the show with his goal sandwiched between his at 11:27 of the first period.
“Feel so happy for a guy that can contribute like that in a situation where he just came to the rink and said, ‘I’m just going to come out and have fun,’” Pacioretty said. “I thought he did a great job, not just his goal but he was out there all over the ice.”
Merrill was a plus-1 in 9:11 of ice time Thursday. He was expected to be a healthy scratch with Nic Hague returning to the lineup. Alas, Hague was paired with Deryk Engelland while Nick Holden was paired with Shea Theodore.
Merrill and Holden have been swapped in the lineup nearly every other game. The chances don’t come often, especially in this type of setting.
“Anytime I’m in the lineup, I’ll do anything for this team,” Merrill said, “whether it’s forward, goalie, D, whatever it is, I’ll do anything for this team.”
The much-maligned defense of the Golden Knights has taken its share of criticism, whether new zone scheme or not. They’re 12-4-2 in their past 18 games with Thursday’s victory, averaging 2.88 goals allowed per game and allowing at least three goals in 10 of those contests.
But you don’t find yourself in first place in the Pacific Division by accident. The Golden Knights have been able to take care of business, which is something they weren’t able to do a month ago. Contributions have been coming from everywhere. This time around, it was Merrill at the right place at the right time.
It hadn’t been done since Merrill scored the game-winning goal on Dec. 14, 2017 against the Pittsburgh Penguins. This goal — this moment, rather — was needed for both the player and the club. The Golden Knights have won three in a row, and are 3-0-0 during this seven-game homestand. The St. Louis Blues are next on Saturday.
You get that win, and that belief starts to grow.
“That’s a great test for us cause they’re a really good group over there,” Merrill said. “I know they’ve been playing really well. That’s a big character win for our team.”