Years from now, we may look back at the Golden Knights-San Jose Sharks games and see one of the better rivalries in the NHL. They’re both fast, energetic teams that have already faced off once in the playoffs.
But what a rivalry needs is a level of reciprocity. The Golden Knights won three of the four regular season games with the Sharks last year, prevailed in the Western Conference semifinals in six games including clinching on the road and waxed San Jose 6-0 in their first meeting this year.
The rivalry needed some juice. The rivalry needed a game like Thursday’s 3-2 San Jose victory at T-Mobile Arena, where the Sharks overcame a third-period deficit and hung on to kill a late penalty and beat the Golden Knights, snapping the team's seven-game win streak.
“It was fast, intense, two similar teams with speed, both teams have and talent on both sides,” goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said. “It’s a tough loss but we’ve got to put it behind and we’ll see them again soon.”
The biggest moment of the game began when San Jose defenseman and penalty killer Brenden Dillon took a slashing penalty with 3:44 to go in the game and his team up 3-2. The Golden Knights waited a minute before pulling Fleury, then threw six forwards on the ice for a 6-on-4 situation they don’t practice often.
“Never, but we’ve played long enough to know what to do in those positions,” winger Max Pacioretty said. “I think it’s more of a power-play feel and you gotta have the patience not to force it.”
The Golden Knights had seven shot attempts in the final 3:44 of the game, but none beat goalie Martin Jones and the Sharks skated off with their second win in seven tries at T-Mobile Arena, including the playoffs.
“It was such a huge win for us,” forward Joonas Donskoi told NBC Sports California. “This has been a tough building for us.”
Thursday was the 12th game between the two over the last two seasons, tying the Sharks with the Los Angeles Kings as the Golden Knights' most common opponent. The win swapped the teams’ places in the standings, with the Sharks leap-frogging Vegas for the second spot in the Pacific Division. The Sharks now lead by one point.
The teams will meet twice more this year, on March 18 and March 30 in San Jose. And based on how close the teams are in the standings, that might not be the final meeting of the year, with a potential postseason clash on the horizon.
“I think there’s a little bit of a rivalry building there,” defenseman Jon Merrill said. “You play a team that many times, you’re going to want to win and beat them.”