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Golden Knights prove doubters wrong in Game 2 win against Jets

Vegas gets contributions up and down lineup to even Western Final

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / NHL.com Columnist

WINNIPEG -- Jonathan Marchessault and the Vegas Golden Knights have had something to prove all season. Why would this be different?

Should anyone be surprised Marchessault scored twice and the Golden Knights defeated the Winnipeg Jets 3-1 at Bell MTS Place on Monday, after he said we would see what kind of team they were and it was a must-win game?

Should anyone be shocked the Western Conference Final is tied 1-1 as the best-of-7 series shifts to Las Vegas for Game 3 at T-Mobile Arena on Wednesday (9 p.m. ET; CBC, SN, TVAS, NBCSN)?

 

[RELATED: Complete Jets vs. Golden Knights series coverage]

 

"Every time we [need] a big game [out] of our group, we show up, and tonight we definitely showed up," Marchessault said. "I think we showed the hockey world that we [earned] the right to be here and we're able to play against a great team."

For some, at least, doubt had returned after Game 1, when Vegas fell behind 3-0 in less than eight minutes and lost 4-2 on Saturday.

The Golden Knights had been an incredible story, the greatest expansion team in NHL history, shattering records, winning the Pacific Division and two rounds in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. But now they were playing their biggest, fastest foe yet, the No. 2 team in the League in the regular season. They trailed in a series for the first time.

Video: Vegas takes Game 2 and ties the series

Marchessault spoke up in the locker room afterward.

"We're going to see what kind of team we are," Marchessault said. "[Game 2] is definitely a must-win game. As a group, as long as you move on, everyone needs to step up."

Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant shrugged off the must-win comment on Sunday, because it wasn't true literally. But he said he was fine with a player putting pressure on himself "as long as he responds with it, plays his best game."

Well, that was the idea.

"I mean, if you're going to talk out there in the media that you have to be better, I think you need to lead by example," Marchessault said. "And I tried to do that."

Video: VGK@WPG, Gm2: Marchessault beats Hellebuyck five-hole

In the first period, Jets forward Kyle Connor skated the puck ahead. Golden Knights defenseman Nate Schmidt slowed him up in the neutral zone, and forward Reilly Smith backchecked relentlessly as Marchessault raced back to get onside.

Smith forced a turnover at the red line and sent the puck to Marchessault at the Jets blue line, springing him on a breakaway. Marchessault went to his backhand and slipped the puck between the pads of goaltender Connor Hellebuyck, putting the Golden Knights ahead 2-0 at 17:22.

Connor redeemed himself at 7:17 of the third, cutting Vegas' lead to 2-1 and waking up the Whiteout. The rink rocked. The fans taunted goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.

But then center William Karlsson chipped the puck past Jets defenseman Jacob Trouba to Smith at the red line, springing him on a rush with Marchessault. As forward Joel Armia pressured from behind and defenseman Josh Morrissey dove at him, Smith passed from left to right across the slot to Marchessault.

Forehand. Backhand. Just like that, Vegas led 3-1 at 8:45, and the crowd went quiet again.

Video: VGK@WPG, Gm2: Marchessault finishes Smith's feed

"That line was incredible tonight," Schmidt said. "They did a really good job. I thought our team played well. We had a really good team win tonight. But some guys really elevated their game to another level."

Two takeaways:

One, the chip on Marchessault's shoulder is so big, it's a wonder he can skate. But it doesn't weigh him down. It drives him.

"That's what makes him motor," Schmidt said. "That's the reason why we love him."

This is a guy who is listed at 5-foot-9, who was never drafted, who bounced from the Columbus Blue Jackets to the Tampa Bay Lightning to the Florida Panthers, who was exposed in the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft even though he scored 30 goals last season.

Video: VGK@WPG, Gm2: Marchessault, Fleury discuss Game 2 win

He responded with 75 points (27 goals, 48 assists) in 77 games in the regular season, a career high in the NHL, and he leads the Golden Knights with 15 points (six goals, nine assists) in 12 playoff games. He had eight shots Monday, twice as many as any other player on either team.

"He's a fiery, fiery player," forward James Neal said. "He's been great for us all year."

Two, the Golden Knights don't have a captain, but different players have filled the role at different times all season -- from Fleury to Marchessault to Neal to defenseman Deryk Engelland, and on down the list. All of these guys were discarded. All of them wanted opportunities like this.

"I think it's what makes the success of our team," said Fleury, who was brilliant again, making 30 saves. "Everybody's comfortable, and we have great chemistry in the room. I think we have a good mix of older guys and younger guys and, um, middle guys maybe?"

Fleury looked at Marchessault, 27, who had seven games of playoff experience before this. They smiled.

"Everybody steps up at some point, and everybody is contributing to the success of our team, and that's what has made us a good team over the season," Fleury said. "That's why we've been consistent throughout the season and the playoffs."

***

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