The power of a goal: Reilly Smith’s between-the-legs score provides spark for Golden Knights

Vegas gets a big-time win on the heels of its 200-foot playmaker scoring when needed.

It’s not just the matter of how Reilly Smith scored the goal. It was the importance of it.

Because no hockey player, no matter how skilled, should be going between the legs in hopes of scoring a goal when down 3-1.

Alas, Smith was desperate to try anything by this point. When he takes the pass from Jonathan Marchessault to the left side of Florida Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo, he’s likely not in the mindset of going full William Karlsson mode with little room to spare. But what else can be done when you’ve recently broken out of a 12-game goalless drought?

That’ll work.

“Not much else had been working,” Smith said. “It was nice to see something go in. I hadn’t had much puck luck lately. I’m running out of ideas in front of the net, so I’m just trying to do anything to put some pucks on [the net]. It worked out, usually doesn’t. Hopefully, my luck is turning around right now.”

It was a beautiful goal. It’s been the norm for many a stickhandler lately. Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant even mentioned Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk’s goal earlier this week against the New York Islanders. Tkachuk’s goal was almost the exact same sequence.

“He must’ve watched Matthew Tkachuk in Calgary the other night,” Gallant said. “He did the same move. Good for him for watching, but it was a beautiful goal.”

But while those two goals were eerie similar, the situations weren’t. The Golden Knights entered the second period down 3-1 to Florida. Despite dominating the first 14 minutes of the game, the Golden Knights stumbled late in the opening stanza by allowing three goals in a matter of 4:25. Mike Hoffman scored twice on the power play, and Aaron Ekblad scored to offset all momentum gained after Paul Stastny scored the game’s opening goal at 3:09.

The Panthers responded with great authority. Any momentum gathered after winning 4-1 against the Dallas Stars on Tuesday looked to be coming to an abrupt end at the hand of a Florida team fighting for a playoff spot. The Golden Knights are looking like the team that has lost 10 of its past 14 games.

Meanwhile, one state over, the Arizona Coyotes (behind the power of Brad Richardson’s four goals) are kicking the tar out of the Vancouver Canucks. They’re on the verge of winning their fifth game in a row and closing the gap between themselves and the Golden Knights for third place in the Pacific Division.

Then, Smith works his magic. That sets off a chain reaction for the Golden Knights scoring three goals in less than nine minutes. Smith’s between-the-legs magic trick makes it 3-2. Jon Merrill, who was having an abysmal game up to this point, ties the game 3-3 at 14:22, and then Colin Miller rose from the ashes of being a healthy scratch and scored a goal for the first time since Nov. 24 for Vegas to take a 4-3 lead late in the second.

“I think the momentum changed as soon as our first shift went out there,” Smith said. “We had a lot of chances before I scored, but they were hitting off the posts or the knob of Luongo’s stick. It seemed like nothing was going in. I think we really turned the tide the first shift of the second period and it rolled over from there.”

Smith wasn’t done. He tied the game late in the third period on the heels of two Florida goals that gave them the lead early in the third. Talk about a slump buster.

“That was big,” Stastny said. “It was 3-1, but it didn’t feel like it. I thought we played good, but they had two nice power-play goals. That third [goal] hurt us a bit. We just simplified it. There wasn’t much too it. Just keep it simple and not give teams chances.”

If Smith doesn’t score that goal, the Golden Knights likely don’t pull off the comeback. They likely don’t win Thursday. Their third place cushion over the Coyotes is likely down to four, leaving a trail of mass hysteria lying at center ice of T-Mobile Arena.

It was a huge moment at the latter stages of the Golden Knights’ season. More importantly, it was monumental for the Golden Knights to string together some wins.

The only downside: Smith will need to find some new moves to score.

“Arizona keeps on winning,” he said, “so we’ve got to keep our foot on the gas and make sure we’re heading in the right direction.”