Vegas’ Nate Schmidt has acknowledged that there are times that playing hockey is not fun, including losing to the Washington Capitals in the Stanley Cup Finals.
The defenseman erased some of that pain on Tuesday night.
Schmidt scored twice in the final two minutes to lift the Golden Knights over the Capitals 5-3.
It was the first time Washington skated at T-Mobile Arena since winning and hoisting Stanley Cup in June.
“[Coach Gerard Gallant] really came in here in the second period, and hasn’t done it much, and challenged our group to go out and have a better third period,” Schmidt said. “And I think up and down our lineup our guys responded, and I think that’s the important part about tonight’s game.”
With the game tied at 3-3, Schmidt burst through the neutral zone and beat goalie Braden Holtby with a tiebreaking wrist shot with 1 minute, 24 seconds left for his first goal of the season. The former Capitals player added an empty-netter moments later.
“It was an emotional game, it was a big win and I like the way our team responded to a challenge,” Schmidt said. “That’s the reason you play hockey, is games like that. You had the lead changes, you had swings, you had them buzzing and we were going. It was just a great hockey game.”
“Those are the types of things you want to be a part of. Over 82 games, you’ve got to find some things to get yourself up for, and that was one of them,” he said.
Ryan Reaves, Pierre Edouard-Bellemare and Cody Eakin also scored for the Golden Knights, while Marc-Andre Fleury made 23 saves.
Jakub Vrana had two goals and Alex Ovechkin scored for Washington. Holtby also stopped 23 shots.
Reaves and Washington’s oft-suspended Tom Wilson renewed their fierce rivalry, with several brutal hits that ignited the crowd, including a vicious shoulder-to-shoulder connection that ended Wilson’s night in the second period.
After trading shots and verbal jabs throughout the first two periods, Reaves leveled Wilson, who was helped from the ice. Reaves was ejected and given a game misconduct penalty.
“That was a man’s game out there... I thought he was just looking at his pass, and he ran into a lion in the jungle,” Reaves said, adding that he did not believe the hit was ejection-worthy.
“If he sees me, I know he’s gonna try and lay me out and I’m not gonna let that happen. I thought it was shoulder to shoulder and I didn’t think it was that late,” he said.
“I think we all seen the hit and video, it’s a clean hit, there’s nothing wrong with the hit. Unfortunate a player got hurt, but it was a clean hit,” Gallant said.
Washington coach Todd Reirden said Wilson was yesterday to be re-evaluated.
“That was something that he targeted him,” Reirden said. “Reaves targeted him the entire game. You could hear it on every face-off, you could hear the things that were being said and it’s a blindside hit where an unsuspecting player hits his head on the ice. That’s disappointing. You can put two and two together, but he targeted him the entire game.”
As a result of Reaves’ ejection, the Golden Knights were forced to kill a five-minute penalty that stretched from the end of the second period to the start of the third.
The Golden Knights rank third in the league with a penalty kill percentage of 84.9 percent. Vegas killed all four of Washington’s power-play opportunities.
Reaves also notched his sixth goal of the season, one shy of his career high, when he took a feed from Eakin 2 minutes, 30 seconds in.
Vrana tied the game late in the period and Ovechkin’s backhand gave the Capitals a 2-1 lead during the second period.
Bellemare’s redirect early in the third tied the game and 16 seconds later Eakin scored his team-leading 11th goal. Vrana’s second goal of the game tied the game at 3-3.
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