It’s been obvious for months, but Thursday night in Winnipeg the Golden Knights made it official: they are the best expansion team in NHL history.
With a 3-2 overtime win over the Jets, Vegas claimed its 34th victory of the season and passed the 1993-94 Anaheim Ducks and Florida Panthers for the most by an expansion team in league history.
David Perron placed a hard wrist shot into the top, left corner for his third overtime goal of the season in the final minute of overtime to give Vegas the win.
The Golden Knights fell behind 1-0 early when Marc-Andre Fleury misplayed a puck behind his net and gifted Jets’ forward Joel Armia a goal with a wide-open net.
Vegas tied the game with a shorthanded goal by Reilly Smith, and a power play goal by Erik Haula in the second period. The Jets entered the game with the No. 2 power play in the entire NHL but it was the Golden Knights’ who dominated special teams.
Kyle Connor beat Fleury with a wrist shot that curled around defenseman Deryk Engelland to tie the game 2-2 with 2:36 left in regulation.
The Florida Panthers hung a banner above their rink at BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla., proclaiming the best expansion season ever, but don’t expect a similar banner at T-Mobile Arena.
That’s because the Golden Knights, who currently sit atop the entire Western Conference with 72 points, have higher aspirations. They lead the Pacific Division by 12 points and will face the Wild tomorrow night in Minnesota.
Golden Knights lead 2-1 after two periods
The Winnipeg Jets entered Thursday night’s contest with the Golden Knights with the No. 2 power play in the NHL, and the best power play at home in the entire league, but it was Vegas’ special teams that have shined through two periods.
Trailing 1-0, the Vegas tied the game with a shorthanded goal by Reilly Smith, then pushed ahead with a power play goal by Erik Haula.
Smith threw Jets’ forward Blake Wheeler to the ice with a vicious open-ice check, then gathered the puck, streaked down the ice and scored a highlight-reel worthy goal to tie the game in the second period Thursday night in Winnipeg.
Smith beat Connor Hellebuyck to the glove side for the Golden Knights’ fourth shorthanded goal of the season, and Vegas killed the remainder of the penalty.
Minutes later the Jets were called for their first penalty of the game, and the Golden Knights quickly took advantage. David Perron threw a wrist shot at the net, and Hellebuyck made the save, but the puck eventually fell behind him and Haula poked it into the goal.
The Jets challenged the goal for goalie interference, as James Neal chopped at Hellebuyck’s chest with his stick prior to the goal, but officials ruled it a good goal.
Vegas is 19-2-1 when leading entering the third period this season.
Winnipeg leads 1-0 after one period
Marc-Andre Fleury is one of the most aggressive goaltenders in the NHL when it comes to playing the puck behind his net.
It’s been a weapon for the Golden Knights as he often helps start their breakout, but Fleury can also get himself in to trouble by playing the puck too often. Thursday night it was the latter, when he misplayed the puck behind the net and gave the Winnipeg Jets an easy goal.
Jets’ forward Matt Hendricks stole the puck from Fleury and passed it to Joel Armia, who put it into the wide-open net to give Winnipeg an early 1-0 lead.
The Golden Knights’ offense was shut down for most of the first period, generating only 10 shots on goal.
The lone bright spot for Vegas in the first period was a successful penalty kill after Jason Garrison was called for interference. The Golden Knights neutralized Winnipeg’s No. 2-ranked power play on its first chance of the night.
The Golden Knights are in Winnipeg tonight for a showdown between Western Conference divisional leaders.
Vegas sits comfortably atop the Pacific Division, with a sizable 10-point cushion from the second-place Sharks, but lead the Winnipeg Jets by only two points for the lead in the entire conference.
With a win tonight the Jets could pull even with the Golden Knights at 70 points apiece, but it’s important to note Vegas has played two fewer games to this point.
The teams have split the first two meetings this season, with each winning on their home ice. The Golden Knights beat the Jets 5-2 on Nov. 10, but Winnipeg extracted revenge with a 7-4 win on Dec. 1.
The Jets, and goaltender Connor Hellebuyck, have been hot lately. Winnipeg has earned a point in five-straight games and won four of the last five including an impressive 3-1 win over Tampa Bay on Tuesday.
Hellebuyck has been in net for all of those contests, and is seventh in the entire NHL in save percentage (.924) and goals against average (2.35).
Minding the net for Vegas will be Marc-Andre Fleury, who earned a win Tuesday in Calgary fresh off his strong performance during the All-Star weekend.
Prediction : Winnipeg 4, Golden Knights 2
Season record for predictions: 27-16
Puck drops: 5 p.m.
Where: T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas
Radio: Fox Sports 1340 AM and 98.9 FM
TV: AT&T SportsNet (DirecTV 684, Cox 1313, CenturyLink Prism 1760)
Betting line: Golden Knights plus-105, Total 5.5 minus-105 to the over
Golden Knights (33-12-4) (14-9-2 road)
Coach: Gerard Gallant
Goal leader: William Karlsson (27)
Assist leader: Jonathan Marchessault and David Perron (30)
Expected goalie: Marc-Andre Fleury (13-4-2, 1.78 goals against average)
Winnipeg Jets (30-13-8) (18-3-1 road)
Coach: Paul Maurice
Goal leader: Patrik Laine (237)
Assist leader: Blake Wheeler (42)
Expected goalie: Connor Hellebuyck (26-6-7, 2.35 goals against average)
Golden Knights game day roster
Forwards (12): Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, William Carrier, Cody Eakin, Erik Haula, William Karlsson, Brendan Leipsic, Oscar Lindberg, Jonathan Marchessault, James Neal, David Perron, Reilly Smith and Alex Tuch.
Defensemen (6): Deryk Engelland, Jason Garrison, Brad Hunt, Colin Miller, Nate Schmidt and Shea Theodore.
Goalies (2): Marc-Andre Fleury and Malcolm Subban