Make it another milestone for the Vegas Golden Knights.
The best expansion franchise in NHL history became the first Pacific Division team this season to reach 20 home victories with a 5-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks Tuesday night at T-Mobile Arena. They’re the fifth overall team in the NHL to get to 20 home victories this season.
This one looked in doubt for much of the night until the Golden Knights came out determined to start the third period. They capitalized on a power play for the first time out of five tries 1:14 into the period when Brad Hunt put a wrist shot over the shoulder of Chicago goalie Jeff Glass to tie the game at 2-2.
Reilly Smith gave the Golden Knights their first lead of the night two minutes later when he slid one past Glass, and David Perron continued the onslaught with a steal he converted into a slap shot goal. Marc-Andre Fleury made a handful of his best stops out of 29 total saves shortly afterwards on a penalty kill, and Vegas was able to ride out the win.
The Golden Knights’ final goal came on an empty net, with Tomas Nosek sending in the puck from center ice. Ryan Carpenter scored Vegas only non-third period goal with a wraparound shot in the first period.
The Golden Knights improved to 37-15-4 on the year, including 20-4-2 at home, and kept their Western Conference lead with 78 total points.
Marc-Andre Fluery made a number of big-time saves in the second period.
Only the one he didn’t make mattered on the scoreboard. The Blackhawks lead the Golden Knights 2-1 at the second intermission after Alex DeBrincat popped a rebound by the lunging Fleury at 6:37 of the period.
Fleury had just stopped a previous DeBrincat shot, and the Golden Knights also blocked an attempt seconds before. He also stonewalled a penalty-shot from Patrick Sharp after a thrown stick ruined a previous attempt from the forward.
The Golden Knights failed to score on another pair of power plays, but came awfully close with around 7 minutes to go. A wrist shot from Ryan Carpenter hit off the post, and a rebound was knocked away at the last possible second by Duncan Keith.
The Golden Knights will have 1:25 left on their fifth power play when the third period commences.
The second period saw the return of James Neal, who checked back in after missing about 10 minutes from taking a hard puck off of the knee in the first period.
William Karlsson got loose and fired the first shot 9 seconds into the Golden Knights’ game against the Blackhawks.
The pace hardly slowed from there, as the first period between the Western Conference foes was fast and hard-hitting at T-Mobile Arena. Through 20 minutes of play, the score is tied at 1-1.
The Blackhawks found the back of the net first, when Tommy Wingels knocked the puck past Marc Andre-Fluery on a power play 1:10 into the game. The Golden Knights responded three minutes later, with Ryan Carpenter wrapping around Chicago’s net to poke in a goal.
Karlsson had a couple chances to add to his team-high in points, and Vegas’ goals leader Jonathan Marchessault likewise got three shots off, but maligned Chicago goalie Jeff Glass stood strong. The Golden Knights went 0-for-2 on the power play, and will start the second period with 1:17 left in a third opportunity.
Perhaps more important than the score is the health of All-Star forward James Neal, who was helped off the ice near the end of the period. Neal slammed to the ice hard after Brad Hunt fired a puck that hit off of his left knee.
A team at the top of the standings tangles with one at the bottom tonight at T-Mobile Arena.
At the beginning of the year, that description wouldn’t have sounded like a surprise for a mid- to-late-season matchup between the Vegas Golden Knights and Chicago Blackhawks. The roles would have just been reversed.
Vegas is towering in the top spot in the Western Conference’s Pacific Division despite minor regression in the last few weeks, while Chicago is deep in the cellar of the West’s Central Division. Hockey Reference’s playoff probabilities give the Blackhawks only a 1 percent chance of reaching the postseason.
It would be the first time in a decade the franchise misses out on the playoffs. Vegas is well-positioned to go for 1-for-1 in franchise playoff berths, but it must improve in order to maintain its spot as the conference’s No. 1 seed.
The Golden Knights have lost back-to-back home games for the first time this season with Sunday’s lethargic 4-1 loss to the Flyers paired with a 2-1 defeat to the Islanders in late January. They should have a big advantage in the net tonight, though. Marc-Andre Fluery is making his 10th start in the Golden Knights’ last 11 games, and the face of the franchise ranks second in the NHL with a 2.07 goals against average
The goalie situation is a major part of Chicago’s disappointing campaign. Starter Corey Crawford has been on IR since December, with neither Anton Forsberg nor Jeff Glass having adequately filled the void.
Glass is expected to make a second straight start tonight, after he gave up three goals in a 6-1 loss at Arizona on Monday. The Golden Knights scored five times on Glass in a 5-4 win at Chicago in January, and also beat the Blackhawks 4-2 in October at home.
They’ll be a facing a new version of the Blackhawks tonight, a desperate but damaged bunch.
Prediction: Golden Knights 3, Blackhawks 2
Season record for predictions: 28-20
Puck drops: 7 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 minus-220, Total 6
Golden Knights (36-15-4) (19-4-2 home)
Coach: Gerard Gallant
Goal leader: William Karlsson (29)
Assist leader: David Perron (36)
Expected goalie: Marc-Andre Fleury (16-6-2, 2.07 goals against average)
Chicago Blackhawks (24-24-8) (12-12-5 away)
Coach: Joel Quenneville
Goal leader: Patrick Kane (21)
Assist leader: Patrick Kane (32)
Expected goalie: Jeff Glass (3-5-3, 3.24 goals against average)
Golden Knights game day roster
Forwards (12): Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Ryan Carpenter, Cody Eakin, Erik Haula, William Karlsson, Oscar Lindberg, Jonathan Marchessault, James Neal, Tomas Nosek, David Perron, Reilly Smith and Alex Tuch.
Defensemen (6): Deryk Engelland, Brad Hunt, Brayden McNabb, Colin Miller, Nate Schmidt and Shea Theodore.
Goalies (2): Marc-Andre Fleury and Maxime Lagace