The NHL’s Golden Knights are the toast of the town.
Erik Haula’s goal in double overtime gave Vegas a 2-1 victory over the Los Angeles Kings on Friday night for a 2-0 lead in their first-round playoff series.
”Honestly, I think that’s my first overtime goal and I’m happy it came at this time; that’s one of the best feelings in sports,” Haula said. ”Going into overtime we just stressed it in the locker room to just keep going after `em, to keep getting pucks behind `em, keep playing north, keep playing fast and I think we executed our game plan.”
With less than five minutes on the clock in the second overtime, James Neal skated into the zone, looked past Alex Tuch and instead found a streaking Haula, who skated in on his own to beat goalie Jonathan Quick and send a towel-waving crowd of 18,588 into a frenzy.
”Obviously, he had the composure to hold the puck. I knew he was going to make that play. Maybe that helps we’ve been playing all year,” Haula said of Neal. ”I had good speed going to the net. … I was able to slide a five-hole, he reacted. I was coming in with a lot of speed, I got lucky and we got the win.”
Game 3 in the best-of-seven Western Conference series is Sunday night in Los Angeles.
Tuch scored for expansion Vegas in regulation, and Paul LaDue had the Kings’ goal.
Marc-Andre Fleury made 29 saves for the Golden Knights. Quick stopped 54 shots for the Kings.
”Such a relief at the end,” said Fleury, who has allowed just one goal in a little more than 155 minutes over the first two games. ”It was long, it was hard. The guys did an awesome job again tonight. It was a good feeling to win at home in front of our fans.”
The Golden Knights outshot Los Angeles in regulation, 35-20.
Vegas coach Gerard Gallant said Friday was a good example of why his scheme of playing four lines consistently all season is important, as his team continued to play with more pep while the Kings appeared fatigued as the second overtime wore on.
”Haula’s a great skater. … Obviously that last goal, Haula’s speed created a lot of that goal,” said Gallant, who got the victory exactly one year after being hired as coach of the Golden Knights. ”As coaches, all year long, we played four lines and that’s what we do, so hopefully that paid off a little bit tonight. We played four lines most of the overtime
The Kings, meanwhile, played without suspended defenseman Drew Doughty, a Norris Trophy contender who led the NHL in total minutes this season. The league’s Department of Player Safety handed down a one-game suspension after Doughty’s illegal hit to the head on Vegas forward William Carrier midway through the third period of the Golden Knights’ 1-0 series-opening victory Wednesday night.
Kings defenseman Oscar Fantenberg led the team with 53 shifts, while fellow defenseman Alec Martinez led the club with 44 minutes, 43 seconds on ice.
In contrast, nobody on Vegas’ roster played more than 38 minutes, with defenseman Nate Schmidt leading the Golden Knights at 37:19.
Game 1 featured 127 hits, including 68 by the Kings, and the rugged play continued in Game 2, with the same physical theme. Los Angeles outhit the Golden Knights 80-56 after the two combined for 113 in regulation.
”(Quick) gave us a chance to win like he always does,” Kings coach John Stevens said. ”A lot of guys played hard tonight, not just Jonny. We had some guys play real hard (to) give us a chance to win. Now we’ve got to go home to take care of business at home.”
Vegas got on the board first after Jonathan Marchessault’s shot went wide and caromed off the end boards. Tuch was in front of the net to clean it up for his first career playoff goal, on a power play, giving the Golden Knights a 1-0 lead late in the first period.
The Kings got their first goal of the series on a power play, when LaDue fired a wrist shot fr om the point to beat Fleury with 4:05 left in the second.
Both teams had their chances in the first overtime, but Fleury and Quick were magnificent between the pipes.
Through two games the teams have played 155 minutes, 16 seconds, and Fleury and Quick have allowed just four goals combined.
NOTES: Rock star Gwen Stefani, a Southern California native raised in Anaheim, was shown on the T-Mobile video board delivering a ”Go Knights Go!” chant during the first period. … Fellow rock star Vince Neil got the crowd roaring to start the third period by winding up the air raid siren.
No roster makeover for the Utah Jazz.
Rather than spend time and money trying to make a splash by bringing in a high-profile free agent, the Jazz are banking on continued internal development and continuity to boost a team that finished the 2017-18 season on a tear.
That approach is reflected in the team’s decision to bring back free agents Derrick Favors, Dante Exum, and Raul Neto under new multi-year contracts.
”Chemistry is a hard thing
Terms of the contracts were not disclosed.
Keeping Utah’s roster virtually intact going into the 2018-19 season appears to be a sound move given how the Jazz finished this past NBA season. Utah earned the fifth seed in the West with a 48-34 record, going 29-6 over their final 35 games, and advanced to the conference semifinals for the second straight year.
Utah became the first team since the 2004-05 New Jersey Nets to end the regular season with a winning record after being nine games below .500 on Jan. 22. The Jazz were 19-28 before their season-changing turnaround began.
That strong finish helped convince Favors to return to Utah rather than seek a larger role elsewhere.
”It was very important,” Favors said. ”I saw what we had and what we could accomplish in a full season when everyone’s healthy.”
Bringing back Favors became a top priority for the Jazz front office. Last season, Favors became just the 12th player to appear in at least 500 career games for Utah and returned to form after enduring a spate of injuries in the previous two seasons. He appeared in 77 games, his most since the 2012-13 season, and averaged 12.3 points and 7.2 rebounds in averaging 28.0 minutes, posting 15 double-doubles and scoring 20 or more points six times.
Lindsey acknowledged that the veteran forward played an indispensable role in getting the Jazz out of the first round in each of the last two seasons.
The team’s continued loyalty has made an impact on Favors.
”They stuck by me through the ups and downs,” he said. ”They believed in me. When Kevin (O’ Connor) traded for me in 2011, he told me fr om day one he wanted me here for the long run. He wanted me to retire as a Jazz man. Hopefully, it happens.”
Despite injuries that have robbed Exum of nearly two full seasons (a torn ACL forced him to miss 2015-16), continued belief in his skills and potential made bringing him back another priority. The 22-year-old point guard out of Australia made an impact off the bench last season in a limited role after undergoing preseason surgery on his left shoulder. He averaged 8.1 points, 3.1 assists and 1.9 rebounds in 14 games.
Now, with a new contract and better health in this offseason, he feels like he’s in a good place.
”With the ACL year, I didn’t get the opportunity to play at the end of the season and connect with the team,” said Exum, who was selected fifth overall in the 2014 NBA draft. ”I got that opportunity this last season, and I got film to go off of wh ere I can get better, but it’s the same mentality – trying to get better in every aspect of the game.
”I need to keep improving on the stuff I’m already good at.”
Neto has spent three seasons with the Jazz as their No. 3 point guard. He played in 41 games last season and averaged 4.5 points, 1.8 assists and 1.2 boards while averaging 12.1 minutes.
For Neto, coming back to a team wh ere he’s comfortable and familiar with his role felt like a no-brainer.
”I’m always going to be ready to play, if it’s one minute or 20,” Neto said.