Game One Shoot Out Goes To The Knights
28 May, 2018
Tomas Nosek’s face betrayed little. There he was, standing in the far reaches of the Vegas Golden Knights dressing room, surrounded by reporters eagerly tossing questions in his direction. The forward seemed unmoved, though, stoic, not exactly overflowing with the emotions of what had just happened to him and his team and his linemates.
“I am excited,” Nosek insisted.
He had cause to be. In a game that was as back-and-forth as any in Stanley Cup Final history, he and the fourth line clinched Game 1 for the Golden Knights, a raucous, over-the-top, sloppy, exhilarating 6-4 win against the Washington Capitals at T-Mobile Arena on Monday. Their line scored three goals in the third period: the tying goal by Ryan Reaves (2:41), the game-winner by Nosek (9:44), and an empty-net goal by Nosek (19:57). They were the difference.
And yet, they are the nobodies of the nobodies, the most overlooked players on a team comprised of overlooked players. They are not the ones who are supposed to be scoring the big goals.
But that is who Vegas is. That is why this team is here.
“That just goes to show you our team, the depth of our group,” defenseman Nate Schmidt said. “We have that ability to have that line go out there and make those types of plays. What more can you ask for?”
And it wasn’t the first time. For Reaves, this was his second consecutive game with a goal; he scored the game-winner against the Winnipeg Jets in Game 5 of the Western Conference Final on May 20, a victory that sent the Golden Knights to the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season.
“I was saving them,” said Reaves, who didn’t score in 21 regular-season games with Vegas. “I don’t know if you guys knew, but I told everybody I was going to save them for the playoffs.”
It made as much sense as anything that has happened to the Golden Knights this season.
It was Nosek, a player with eight NHL regular-season goals, scoring the game-winner. It was Reaves scoring in consecutive games for the first time in more than a year (April 6 and 8, 2017). It was Pierre-Edouard Bellemare winning the face-off that led to the winning goal.
They were the ones who had come up big in the biggest moments.
“It’s nothing magical we are doing, or a crazy recipe,” Bellemare said. “We are just trying to outwork whoever we’re playing against and tonight we got rewarded.”
They had rewarded the faith of coach Gerard Gallant, who could have changed Reaves and his line out before that game-winner against the Jets. He could have done it again on the first Nosek goal on Monday, when the Golden Knights had an offensive-zone faceoff at 9:28 of the third period after Braden Holtbymade a save on Reaves.
The Capitals changed, sending their fourth line onto the ice. Gallant could have gone with his first line, though Jonathan Marchessault was still in the dressing room after a hit by Tom Wilson. He could have tried to take advantage of the matchup. Instead he left out Nosek and Bellemare and Reaves.
They came through, with a beauty of a pass by defenseman Shea Theodore to Nosek, after Washington forward Devante Smith-Pelly could not get the puck out of the zone. Theodore’s pass crossed the ice from the far reaches of the left circle, through the slot, to Nosek for the one-timer.
“Just playing simple,” Reaves said. “We’re playing responsible in our zone. Once it comes in our zone, we’re getting it deep, we’re going to work. We’re not trying to make any fancy plays at the blue lines.”
They didn’t need to be fancy. They didn’t need to be demonstrative. They didn’t even need to be excited. They just needed to be exactly what the Golden Knights needed on Monday, exactly who they are, even if they’re the overlooked of the overlooked, the players who are still able to be under the radar.
Asked about Nosek, about who he is and his personality, Vegas forward Reilly Smith, himself not exactly the most loquacious of people, could only offer this: “He’s really quiet, so no one really knows him.”
He may have been serious. He may have been kidding.
Either way, they know him now. They know his line.
They know that he was the one who gave the Golden Knights their first win in their first game in the Stanley Cup Final, a thing so improbable that they still barely believed it after it happened. But even as they were digesting that, as Nosek was being questioned about his enthusiasm level, he already knew that this one win wasn’t even close to enough.
There was time for excitement yet.
“It’s just first win,” Nosek said. “We need three more. Then I’ll be more excited for sure.”
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