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June 22, 2018

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ANALYSIS:

Golden Knights’ otherworldly ability to answer pays off in Stanley Cup opener

Vegas trailed for less than 5 minutes despite close game throughout

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Steve Marcus

Vegas Golden Knights center William Karlsson, center, celebrates with teammates after scoring in the first period during Game 1 of the NHL Stanley Cup Finals at T-Mobile Arena Monday, May 28, 2018. Also pictured are Reilly Smith (19) and Jonathan Marchessault (81).

Golden Knights Beat Capitals in Game 1

A welcome message is shown the jumbotron before the start of Game 1 of the NHL Stanley Cup Finals between the Vegas Golden Knights and the Washington Capitals at T-Mobile Arena Monday, May 28, 2018. Launch slideshow »

Stanley Cup Final Game 1 Fans

Two Vegas Golden Knights fans pose for a photo during Game 1 of the VGK versus the Washington Capitals NHL Stanley Cup Finals at Toshiba Plaza outside T-Mobile Arena, Monday, May 28, 2018. Launch slideshow »

Golden Misfits had a good run as the punk rock-inspired nickname for the Golden Knights.

After Monday’s 6-4 victory over the Washington Capitals in game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, however, it’s time to update the moniker with a more current and fitting punk rock reference -- to a band that took its name from a hockey headline.

This team is looking more like the Golden Comeback Kids.

Admittedly, that name may not roll off the tongue as smoothly or have a convenient iconic logo to plagiarize for T-shirt sales. But the Golden Knights have moved past the point of being unwanted.

Heck, some general managers in the league would sacrifice their souls for a chance to roster a handful of Vegas players after this remarkable season. And this remarkable season is largely due to the Golden Knights’ resilience.

A resilience they’ve shown time and time again. A resilience that has them three victories away from hoisting the Stanley Cup in their inaugural season.

Tonight’s victory proved excruciating for 18,575 fans who packed T-Mobile Arena with a Stanley Cup game 1 record four lead changes. But the Golden Knights trailed only for meager four minutes and 35 seconds of game time.

That’s because their seemingly preternatural ability to come back and answer opponents’ big goals reared its head once again. For all the reasons the Golden Knights have become beloved locally, their inability to allow fans to feel uncomfortable shouldn’t be underestimated.

But goalie Marc-Andre Fleury is typically the emotional levee, and he provided less protection than normal in the opener against the Capitals. Fleury had an off night, and that’s fine.

It’s not practical to expect him to maintain the historic .947 save percentage he posted through the western conference portion of the playoffs. Some regression was in store, even if Golden Knights’ fans didn’t want to hear it.

They didn’t want to feel it either, amid the gut-punches of stoppable goals by Nicklas Backstrom in the first period and Tom Wilson in the third period. Fleury was caught out of position for both, with the former making the score 2-1 Capitals in the first period and the latter putting the road team up 4-3 with less than 19 minutes to play.

The Golden Knights practiced what they preached all year, however, and let someone else step up to restore order. And it wasn’t always the usual suspects.

Well, the goal to even the score at 2 was a usual suspect. William Karlsson flashed the speed that’s enabled him to have a career year to get ahead of the defense, corral a rebound and slip a shot past Braden Holtby.

The Capitals made pre-playoff Stanley Cup favorite Tampa Bay Lightning look slow in the eastern conference finals. That’s not happening to the Golden Knights.

Vegas’ dynamite first line actually soared past Washington’s loaded Alexander Ovechkin-led first line all night. They added the next goal after Karlsson’s too, when Reilly Smith rocketed the puck home after the unit beat Washington down the ice again.

But the Capitals beat Fleury for the next two scores, including Wilson’s to start the third period, to silence the typically raucous T-Mobile Arena. That’s when those who could still fairly be classified as misfits took over.

Bruiser Ryan Reaves, who racked up healthy scratches this year, scored for the second straight game after having previously never found the net for the Golden Knights by banging through a rebound. That goal came only a minute and a half after Wilson captured the lead for the Capitals.

Those rapid responses might come twice or three times a postseason for a typical team to reach the Stanley Cup. Vegas has now done it four times in the last five games.

Reaves’ unit also put the finishing touches the win, as linemate Tomas Nosek converted on a perfect pass from Shea Theodore for the game-winning goal at 9:44 of the third period. Nosek later scored the empty-netter in the final seconds.

The former Red Wing was spectacular throughout the game, adding two blocked shots and three hits. Scratch him off the list of misfits.

Nosek is better described as a Comeback Kid, the band whose name was inspired by a hockey headline and named their debut album, Turn It Around.

The Golden Knights’ greatest strength during this Stanley Cup run has been turning around all misfortune.

Case Keefer can be reached at 702-948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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