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August 15, 2018

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Golden Knights tap home crowd’s energy to drown Blue Jackets

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Steve Marcus

Vegas Golden Knights players celebrate after a goal scored by Vegas Golden Knights left wing James Neal (18) during a game against the Columbus Blue Jackets at T-Mobile Arena Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2017. With Neal are Vegas Golden Knights left wing David Perron (57) and left wing Erik Haula (56).

2018 Golden Knights vs. Blue Jackets

Vegas Golden Knights left wing James Neal (18) scores during a game against the Columbus Blue Jackets at T-Mobile Arena Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2017. Launch slideshow »

Tuesday night, the Golden Knights dragged the Columbus Blue Jackets into the deep water at T-Mobile Arena and drowned them.

“They play with arrogance and it’s a good thing,” Columbus captain Nick Foligno said about the Golden Knights, who thrashed the Blue Jackets 6-3.

Columbus scored early in the second period to claim a 2-1 lead, and drew a penalty for an opportunity with the man advantage to extend its lead. But Columbus' Zach Werenski was called for slashing, creating a 4-on-4, and three seconds into it Vegas' Colin Miller ripped a slap shot past Sergei Bobrovsky to tie the game.

“It’s something that you have to try to negate during the game,” Foligno said. “We had it. We were up 2-1 and the crowd was quiet.”

But then it wasn’t.

The Golden Knights scored three goals in a span of 4:16, and the standing-room-only sellout crowd, sheathed in steel gray and gold, exploded in cheers and swallowed the Blue Jackets whole.

“The crowd gets excited because they smell blood, and so does the team,” Foligno said. “Their fans are outstanding. They really start to embrace when the team starts to take over and they start to take over. The crowd gets louder and they just feed off it.”

The Golden Knights’ forechecking pressure swarmed Columbus and overwhelmed them, hemming the Blue Jackets into their own zone.

“They got us stuck in there a few times,” Columbus defenseman Seth Jones said. “They were buzzing around and we couldn’t stop the puck in the defensive zone.”

Because of the unrelenting pressure, Columbus was unable to change lines, leaving players stranded on the ice while the Golden Knights continued to send fresh players over the boards.

“Guys keeled over trying to weather the storm and they’re just buzzing around,” Foligno said. “They’re getting line changes while we’re still out there. That’s what we (usually) do to teams. I think we need to take this as a little slap in the head and say, ‘That’s how you play hockey.’”

Exhausted, and seemingly stretching their necks to keep their mouths just above water, Blue Jackets defenders stood in place while the Golden Knights forwards skated circles around them. Erik Haula evaded four defenders on his own and walked in on Bobrovsky for a scoring chance.

Defenseman Brad Hunt scored his first goal as a Golden Knight on a blistering slap shot that rang off the crossbar and into the net. Seconds later James Neal scored his 22nd goal of the season by tipping the puck past Bobrovsky.

“I just hope it’s a lesson for our guys,” Foligno said. “I hope that was an embarrassment in the second period.”

Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella made headlines prior to the game when he was asked about other teams struggling in Las Vegas, and told the Columbus Dispatch, “I want them to go out. I think playing guilty is a big part of being a really good player in the National Hockey League. When you start trying to treat your players like 10-year-olds, babysit them and don’t allow them to go out and enjoy some of the cities they’re in, you’re going down the wrong road. We do want to get acclimated with the (time) change, and we want them to enjoy themselves, too. It’s a long year. We ask a lot out of them.”

The Blue Jackets arrived to Las Vegas early on Saturday, but players said the so-called “Vegas Flu” wasn’t a factor in the game.

“That’s all bull----,” Foligno said. “I think it’s such a bad thing to say. I think it’s just easy for you guys to write about and people want to talk about it, but we were fully prepared for this game.”

The Golden Knights thoroughly outplayed the Blue Jackets, outshooting them 38-32 and controlling the puck for most of the 60 minutes. It was one of the most dominant wins of the season for Vegas, but it didn't surprise Tortorella.

“They’re feeling it,” Tortorella said. “It’s a confident group. It didn’t surprise us; we knew it was going to be a tough game. We have to lick our wounds and get ready for Arizona.”

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