Year 2, Game 29: Golden Knights pull off thrilling win, defeat Capitals 5-3

Hockey is fun.

In the second and final Stanley Cup rematch of the season, the Vegas Golden Knights defeated the Washington Capitals 5–3. It was a highly-anticipated game, and it turned out to be the fast and physical matchup that everyone expected, and more.

Once again, the Golden Knights’ fourth line played a significant role in the win. The line fueled the game’s physicality and was responsible for two goals.

William Carrier finished the night with eight hits, but it was Ryan Reaves who grabbed center stage in a back-and-forth matchup against Tom Wilson. Reaves’ presence was a dominant force in the first period. Though Wilson delivered a crushing hit to get things started, Reaves later caught him twice, at one point taking down Wilson with a smile on his face.

Not only that, Reaves scored the first goal of the game. Just over a minute into the first period, Brett Connolly barreled over Marc-Andre Fleury in the crease, putting the Golden Knights on the power play. Oscar Lindberg, who replaced Max Pacioretty in the lineup, sent a wrist shot at the net, which forced a rebound; Cody Eakin was ready and waiting. Eakin fed the puck to Reaves, who put it into the wide-open net. Vegas had a 1–0 lead just 2:30 into the game.

It was Reaves’ sixth goal and second power-play goal of the season, and Lindberg picked up his first point of the year on the play. A Reaves power-play goal assisted by Eakin and Lindberg is not something you see every day, but it’s an encouraging sign for a Knights team that is starting to win by committee.

Washington was able to answer later in the frame when Connolly capitalized on a turnover at the blue line, sending a perfect cross-ice feed to Jakub Vrana, who completed the two-on-one and knotted things up at 1-1.

In the second period, Alexander Ovechkin re-claimed the lead by scoring his 20th goal of the season as he was quick to react in front of the net when an off-the-glass rebound landed in his lap. There wasn’t much Fleury could do on the play.

The Reaves-Wilson show was in full swing until Reaves initiated a shoulder-to-shoulder hit in the second period. Wilson’s helmet flew off as he fell, hitting his head on the ice. It was a defining moment in the game, as Wilson had to be helped off the ice (he did not return) and Reaves was assessed a five-minute major for interference and a game misconduct.

However, Vegas’ penalty kill came to play tonight, ultimately finishing 4-for-4 and completely shutting down Washington’s power play.

The third period was perhaps the most entertaining period of the Knights’ season, and Vegas used the momentum from killing off the major to strike twice in the span of just 16 seconds. First, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare scored on a deflection.

Then Eakin grabbed his team-leading 11th goal of the season just 2:49 into the frame.

In the blink of an eye, Vegas had regained the lead.

The Capitals weren’t about to go down without a fight, though. Vrana got lost in the shuffle as he was able to sneak into the slot while Evgeny Kuznetsov carried the puck into the zone. This gave Vrana the lane he needed for a solid scoring chance, and he made no mistake on his one-timer.

With his second of the game, Vrana made it 3-3.

Then, with 5:16 left in the third, Nic Dowd took a high-sticking penalty when he caught Brayden McNabb up high, causing him to bleed. This gave the Golden Knights a four-minute power play with which to work.

Fittingly, it was former Capitals defenseman Nate Schmidt who saved the day. With just 10 seconds left on the power play and just 1:25 left in the game, Schmidt skated right down the middle of the ice and placed a stunning wrist shot right under Braden Holtby’s glove.

The Knights had the lead once again, and this time they would not surrender it.

Schmidt, who hadn’t scored a goal before tonight’s game, then added an empty-net goal to seal the win, completing a three-point effort on the night.

It was an important win at home against the reigning Stanley Cup champions. After losing to Washington in October, Vegas was able to regroup and come out on top.

The last time these teams met at T-Mobile Arena, things did not end well for the Golden Knights. Though tonight’s win doesn’t erase that result, it was certainly a strong team effort and an emotional win in an epic game.

The penalty kill was the true star of the game, as Washington had every opportunity to put this one away. But Vegas kept fighting. The Knights fed on the momentum generated by killing off the major, taking full advantage by scoring two goals in quick succession. Even after relinquishing the lead once again, Vegas responded with a late goal. That’s the kind of resilience that Vegas showed throughout its inaugural campaign, and it’s that kind of resilience that had been missing from the Knights’ repertoire earlier this season.

Tonight’s win marks Vegas’ third straight win on home ice, and the Knights have won six out of their last seven games, giving them a 15-13-1 record. Things seem to be clicking (finally), and this is certainly the kind of win that inspires confidence in the locker room and on the ice. Vegas will look to carry that confidence into Thursday’s meeting with the Blackhawks.

It’s possible the Knights will have to do so without Reaves, who could face supplemental discipline for his late hit on Wilson. That would be a tough blow considering how important he and the rest of the fourth line have been to this team all year. Either way, the Knights will look to build on tonight’s win as they aim to get a new winning streak going Thursday night.