Golden Knights 5, Lightning 3: Vegas tops surging Bolts, moves into first place in the Pacific

Alec Martinez scored two points in his Golden Knights debut.

The Vegas Golden Knights made a statement with their 5-3 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning Thursday night at T-Mobile Arena.

The Lightning entered the game as the hottest team in the National Hockey League, having won 11 straight. Tampa hadn’t lost in regulation since Jan. 16 and hadn’t given up four goals in a game in 2020.

But the Knights put an end to all of that in a gutsy performance in front of their home crowd, coming away with another crucial pair of points.

The win helps the Knights improve to 4-0-0 on their current homestand, and it gives Vegas (32-22-8) sole possession of first place in the Pacific Division with 72 points.

The turning point in the game was Vegas’ quick-strike offense at the start of the third period as the Knights scored two goals in the first 47 seconds of the frame, giving Vegas a commanding 5-2 lead in the blink of an eye.

But it takes a lot more than a few quick goals to defeat a team of this caliber.

Unfortunately for Vegas, as has been the case in many games this season, things didn’t get off to a great start.

Anthony Cirelli hit the crossbar on a breakaway, and the Lightning took a 1-0 lead when a Kevin Shattenkirk backhand deflected off Nick Holden’s skate and into the net.

The goal came immediately after a great Vegas scoring chance was foiled by Andrei Vasilevskiy, who came into the contest with a 19-0-2 record over his previous 21 games.

But the Knights later evened things up at 1-1 with under two minutes left in the first period.

Of all people, it was newly-acquired Alec Martinez who lit the lamp in his Golden Knights debut. Martinez capitalized on a generous rebound off a shot by Cody Eakin for his first as a Knight and second of the season.

It’s worth noting that Martinez’ only other goal of the season was (of course) scored at T-Mobile Arena when the Kings were in town in early January.

Paul Stastny gave Vegas its first lead of the night on a beautiful tip play off a feed from Reilly Smith just under seven minutes into the second. But Steven Stamkos tied it at 2-2 with a power-play tally from his office at the left circle at 15:38 of the period.

Appropriately, it took Mark Stone just 61 seconds (you can’t write this stuff) to put Vegas back on top, and it was Martinez who got the whole play started.

Martinez picked up his 200th career point with the secondary assist on the play.

Vegas took the 3-2 lead into the third, but it wasn’t a lead that would last.

That’s because the Knights tripled it with two quick goals at the start of the period.

In fact, it took Vegas just 47 seconds to make it a three-goal game.

Ryan Reaves started things off with a great individual effort just 10 seconds into the frame, and Max Pacioretty followed suit with a gorgeous snipe for his 28th of the year just 37 seconds later.

Though Stamkos netted his second power-play goal of the game in the final two minutes of regulation, the Knights’ comfortable lead was more than enough to help them secure the 5-3 victory.

It was a huge game for the Knights, who now sit just six points out of first place in the entire Western Conference.

When all is said and done, this is just one game.

That being said, over the course of a 60-minute hockey game, the Golden Knights took down the hottest team in the league, won their fourth straight game, moved into first place in the division and got a two-point performance out of the guy that joined the team just two days ago.

Arguably more important than all of that, however, is the fact that elements of this game were reminiscent of Golden Knights hockey at its best.

The timely responses after giving up goals, the quick-strike offense, rolling four lines, getting production from all four lines, etc.

It wasn’t the Knights’ finest game of the season, as the underlying numbers show. In fact, Tampa held the edge in Corsi in all three periods (47-36 overall).

But even the best teams don’t play a flawless 60 minutes every night. Good teams find ways to win, and the Knights did more than enough to come away victorious in this one.

It was a spirited effort, the Knights made big plays at key times in the game, and everyone in the lineup contributed.

Martinez’ showing was particularly encouraging, even if multi-point performances are not going to be the norm for him moving forward. He recorded one shot, one hit, four blocks and one takeaway in 20:01 of ice time, though he finished with one of the lowest Corsi percentages on the team (31.25). However, he played a significant role in the Knights’ win and certainly gives the blue line more depth and stability than it has had in quite some time.

Vegas has struggled with consistency for most of the season, but the Knights have put together four consecutive impressive wins.

They will look to make it five when they host the Florida Panthers Saturday night.