LAS VEGAS — Vegas’ Nate Schmidt has acknowledged there are times that playing hockey isn’t fun, including losing to the Washington Capitals in the Stanley Cup finals.
The defenceman erased some of that pain on Tuesday night.
Schmidt scored twice in the final two minutes to lift the Golden Knights over the Capitals 5-3.
It was the first time Washington skated at T-Mobile Arena since winning and hoisting Stanley Cup in June.
“(Coach Gerard Gallant) really came in here in the second period, and hasn’t done it much, and challenged our group to go out and have a better third period,” Schmidt said. “And I think up and down our lineup our guys responded, and I think that’s the important part about tonight’s game.”
With the game tied 3-3, Schmidt burst through the neutral zone and beat goalie Braden Holtby with a tiebreaking wrist shot with 1:24 left for his first goal of the season. The former Capitals player added an empty-netter moments later.
“It was an emotional game, it was a big win and I like the way our team responded to a challenge,” Schmidt said. “That’s the reason you play hockey, is games like that. You had the lead changes, you had swings, you had them buzzing and we were going. It was just a great hockey game. Those are the types of things you want to be a part of. Over 82 games, you’ve got to find some things to get yourself up for, and that was one of them.”
Ryan Reaves, Pierre Edouard-Bellemare and Cody Eakin also scored for the Golden Knights, while Marc-Andre Fleury made 23 saves.
Jakub Vrana had two goals and Alex Ovechkin scored for Washington. Holtby also stopped 23 shots.
Reaves and Washington’s oft-suspended Tom Wilson renewed their fierce rivalry, with several brutal hits that ignited the crowd, including a vicious shoulder-to-shoulder connection that ended Wilson’s night in the second period. After trading shots and verbal jabs throughout the first two periods, Reaves levelled Wilson, who was helped from the ice. Reaves was ejected and given a game misconduct penalty.
“That was a man’s game out there. . I thought he was just looking at his pass, and he ran into a lion in the jungle,” said Reaves, who added he didn’t believe the hit was ejection-worthy. “If he sees me, I know he’s gonna try and lay me out and I’m not gonna let that happen. I thought it was shoulder to shoulder and I didn’t think it was that late.”
Said Gallant: “I think we all seen the hit and video, it’s a clean hit, there’s nothing wrong with the hit. Unfortunate a player got hurt, but it was a clean hit.”
Washington coach Todd Reirden said Wilson would be re-evaluated Wednesday.
“That was something that he targeted him,” Reirden said. “Reaves targeted him the entire game. You could hear it on every faceoff, you could hear the things that were being said and it’s a blindside hit where an unsuspecting player hits his head on the ice. That’s disappointing. You can put two and two together but he targeted him the entire game.”
As a result of Reaves’ ejection, the Golden Knights were forced to kill a five-minute penalty that stretched from the end of the second period to the start of the third. The Golden Knights rank third in the league with a penalty kill percentage of 84.9 per cent. Vegas killed all four of Washington’s power play opportunities.
Reaves also notched his sixth goal of the season, one shy of his career high, when he took a feed from Eakin 2:30 in. Vrana tied the game late in the period, and Ovechkin’s backhand gave the Capitals a 2-1 lead during the second period. Bellemare’s redirect early in the third tied the game, and 16 seconds later, Eakin scored his team-leading 11th goal. Vrana’s second goal of the game tied the game at 3-all.
“I can’t lie, this is a good feeling; in front of our crowd, it was loud, it was so much fun and Nate to score the game-winner, that was awesome,” Fleury said. “A little story book, just a few months too late. But we’ll still take it.”
NOTES: Two-time World Series champion Shane Victorino and wife Melissa attended the game. … Vegas’ Daniel Carr played in his 100th game. … Ovechkin is one shot shy from 5,000 for his career. … The Capitals have scored three or more goals in nine straight and 20 of 27 games this season, including 10 games with five or more goals. In games when the Capitals scored three or more goals, Washington is 14-3-3. The Capitals are 1-6-0 when scoring two or fewer goals. … Eakin’s goal was his 200th point.
By The Associated Press