With a much-needed two points on the line, the Vegas Golden Knights picked up a home victory to end a two-game losing streak to take sole possession of first place in the Pacific Division.
Vegas conquered Carolina, 3-2, Wednesday, March 1 from the T-Mobile Arena also known as The Fortress. After coming into the game tied with the Los Angeles Kings, the Knights took over first place in the division.
“It was just a great effort,” center Jack Eichel said. “A lot of resiliency from our group to stick with it. [Guys found us] a way to get us one late in the game against a really good team and we get two points. It’s really good to see.”
This year’s VGK squad is now 36-19-6 on the year, good for 78 points. Currently, the Kings are just behind them with 76 points, followed by the Edmonton Oilers with 74 points.
In addition, Vegas is 6-0-1 in its last seven home games.
The brief three-game homestand continues Friday, March 3 as another Eastern Conference powerhouse comes to town in the New Jersey Devils. That game is set to start at 7 p.m.
“We talked about [having a] playoff hockey mentality,” head coach Bruce Cassidy said. “It’s that time of year where your habits really have to be on. It’s tough to build them now – it’s probably too late for the teams that haven’t done it yet.”
In the team’s most recent back-and-forth contest, right-winger Reilly Smith netted the game-winning goal with 3:41 to go in regulation. That went down as his 20th of the season.
Smith was held without a point in both of the team’s most recent back-to-back losses.
“He’s worked hard,” Cassidy said. “He’s had a lot of good looks. For him, sometimes, he’s not scoring, if you remember that play in the second period, he got the stretch pass in the middle and was looking to make a play. It’s like ‘Reilly you’re a goal scorer and you can make plays.’”
Both of Carolina’s goals came in come-from-behind fashion, falling behind by a goal on two separate occasions.
Eichel scored the game’s first goal just over five minutes into the second period on his third shot of the game. It came off of assists from defenseman Shea Theodore and left-wing William Carrier.
With just 69 seconds left in the second period and the game tied at one apiece, Eichel scored his second goal of the game on a one-on-one breakaway opportunity.
Eichel now has six goals and 10 points in his last nine games.
Recently acquired, Ivan Barbashev, made his VGK home debut after being traded from the St. Louis Blues. He debuted on the first line with Eichel and center Jonathan Marchessault early in the first period.
“It still feels a little bit weird,” he said. “Tonight was a little bit easier than [Monday night against Colorado], I tried to understand Jack and Marchy more in how they play. It just felt like it was a little bit easier.”
Barbashev assisted on Eichel’s second goal of the game along with fellow center Phil Kessel. That assist went down as the first point of Barbashev’s VGK career.
“He’s pretty easy to play with,” Eichel said of Barbashev. “The more we spend time together and play, the chemistry will continue to get better. We just have to read off each other and make those little plays.”
Although two goals got through, VGK goalie Adin Hill tallied 24 saves in the win and recorded a save percentage of .923.