The Golden Knights continued their impressive start Thursday, earning a hard fought victory over the Jets in Winnipeg. The Knights Canadian-heavy roster has multiple Manitoba-born players in tow, many of whom brought the Stanley Cup to the province during celebrations this past summer.
The mood was far less celebratory heading into Thursday’s affair. The Knights have shown no sign of a championship hangover or contentment, reflected in their hot start which has been largely a show of strength against lesser Western Conference opponents (excluding Dallas).
The Jets busted out of the gates with a purpose, scoring on Alex Iafallo’s rebound of a Josh Morrisey shot that ricocheted off Knight’s goalie Logan Thompson just one minute and 30 seconds into the game.
The Jets continued to dominate the majority of the first period, but couldn’t capitalize on a few good chances throughout the period.
With just over 2:15 left in the first, Conn Smythe winner Jonathan Marchessault buried the one-timer off a Chandler Stephenson feed, evening the score at 1-1 despite a rough start for the Knights.
The Knights looked volatile for the remainder of the period, being bailed out by a magnificent save by Logan Thompson. The early save-of-the-year candidate likely reserved the number 1 spot on tonight’s edition of SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays.
The lackluster first period obviously didn’t sit well in the VGK locker room. Just 49 seconds into the second period, Manitoba’s own Brett Howden put the Golden Knights ahead 2-1 credit to a Mark Stone assist.
The next 15 minutes or so went by without much fanfare, until Alec Martinez made his presence felt by scoring in his season debut to stretch the Knights lead to 3-1.
The two goal lead was short-lived for the Knights however, as a costly turnover from Stone resulted in a Cole Perfetti goal mere moments later off a Vladimir Namestikov assist. The Knights held a 3-2 lead entering the second intermission.
The Knights seemingly reverted back to their first period form during the second intermission. A eleven-minute dog walk by the Jets to start the third ended in a game-tying powerplay goal by Alex Iafallo, courtesy of a Mark Scheifele assist. It was Iafallo’s second of the game.
Still, the mark of a championship team is how they respond in moments of adversity. And you know what they say about big time players stepping up in big time moments.
So who else but Jack Eichel to tally the game-winning goal? The newly-coronated alternate captain buried yet another beautiful feed from captain Mark Stone for the game-winning goal, putting the Knights ahead 4-3 with four minutes to play.
The Knights would not relinquish the lead this time, hanging on for the final stretch to advance to 5-0-0. The last defending champion to start the season with five wins before dropping one was the 1997-98 Detroit Red Wings. Those Red Wings ended up going back-to-back, just saying.
The Knights now look ahead to Saturday’s tilt in Chicago. The defending champions have the distinction of being the Blackhawks’ opponent for the home debut of Conor Bedard. It will surely be a lively atmosphere in the United Center. Saturday’s puck drop is at 5 p.m. PDT.