Monday, May 28, 2018 | 10:13 p.m.
In Vegas, this is how we do the Stanley Cup Finals.
Rapper Lil Jon performed a concert for thousands of fans outside T- Mobile Arena before the Vegas Golden Knights took on the Washington Capitals, soul singer Gladys Knight sang “God Bless America” during intermission, and boxing legend Michael Buffer belted out the starting lineups and a “Let’s get ready to rumble” prior to puck drop.
So, yes, the stars were shining bright in Las Vegas.
But on the ice it wasn’t the stars who factored into the outcome of the monumental game . NHL leading goal-scorer Alex Ovechkin was mostly silent with only two shots on goal for Washington, and Marc-Andre Fleury had a forgettable night allowing four goals for Vegas.
Instead, it was the Golden Knights’ always under-appreciated fourth line that won the game, scoring three goals in the third period to power Vegas to a 6-4 victory and a 1-0 lead in the Stanley Cup Final.
Tomas Nosek scored the eventual game-winning goal to give the Golden Knights a 5-4 lead with 10:16 to play, then finished the Capitals off with an empty net goal in the final seconds.
“They are warriors for us and they got rewarded tonight,” Vegas coach Gerard Gallant said. “It’s great when you see those guys get rewarded. They’re a big part of our group and you guys all know that. It’s nice to see those guys chip in with a few goals.”
Despite scoring only seven goals on the season, Nosek’s play has been vital to Vegas’ success. Whether it’s providing important minutes on the fourth line, blocking shots in the defensive zone or killing penalties, he has done the thankless jobs required for a deep playoff run.
Now, on hockey’s biggest stage, Nosek made the spectacular plays that everyone noticed.
“It’s awesome to see,” Vegas first-line winger Jonathan Marchessault said. “Those guys on the fourth line don’t get enough credit. They work hard — probably work the hardest. They play well, play the right way and they don’t get as much ice time as they want but they managed to get those big goals for us and that says a lot about our team.”
Shea Theodore made a great play on Nosek’s game-winner, holding the puck in the zone after his original shot deflected off a defender’s leg. Theodore skated into the faceoff circle, found Nosek waiting on the backdoor and Nosek one-timed the puck past Washington goalie Braden Holtby.
“It’s a great feeling,” Nosek said. “You play in the Stanley Cup Final maybe once in your life so you try to enjoy it. I think every kid who is playing hockey dreams about scoring in the Stanley Cup Final, or winning it. I’m just happy the goal helped the team win the game.”
But even in a two goal performance, Nosek’s best play of the night was of the workman variety.
Nursing a one-goal lead in the final minute, the Golden Knights were desperately trying to hold on as the Capitals applied pressure with an extra attacker after pulling the goalie.
The puck was pushed back to Ovechkin for a one-timed slap shot, but Nosek dove in front of the man who recently won the NHL’s hardest shot competition and got his stick on the puck. He immediately leaped to his skates and hustled down the ice to collect the puck and put it into the empty goal mouth.
“I felt good for him because he’s a guy that works hard every game,” fellow fourth-line forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare said. “It’s been an easy year for me to play with him, and sometimes we don’t create a lot of offense but tonight it bounced right for us. It’s nothing magical we did, or a crazy recipe. We are just trying to outwork whoever we’re playing against and tonight we got rewarded.”
The goals were only Nosek’s second and third playoff goals of his career.
“The so-called fourth line went out there and battled hard,” Gallant said. “They got pucks below the goal line and that’s how you score goals. In a tight series when teams are blocking shots, big (Ryan Reaves) goes hard to the net, Nosek makes plays to the net and Bellemare competed hard.”
It was Reaves who scored the game-tying goal early in the third. Vegas fell behind for the first time in the game, 4-3, and the momentum seemed to be tilting towards the Capitals. Then Reaves shoved his defender to the ice in front of the Washington goal, received the puck and lifted it top shelf.
It was Reaves’ second spectacular goal in as many games. He had scored only one playoff goal in the 41 postseason games prior.
“I’m just trying to enjoy the ride,” he said. “You don’t get to this position very often in your career, so we have to enjoy it. I love this group. I love every guy on this team from the owner down to everybody.”
Reaves was certainly enjoying the moment, even caught singing along with the in-arena music at one point.
“I’m always having fun. I love this game and you can’t play it forever so you have to have fun while you’re doing it. If you showed me more you’d see me singing a lot more.”
Reaves has given the cameras more reason to focus on him lately, trading his former enforcer role for one that fits with Vegas’ style of play. He has yet to drop the gloves as a Golden Knight, including Monday night when Washington bruiser Tom Wilson took Marchessault out of the game momentarily with a late blindside hit.
Many assumed a fight with Reaves would soon follow, but he was too occupied scoring game-changing goals to bother with a scrap.
For all of the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas — including the insanely long and masterfully choreographed pregame festivities — the Golden Knights have won this year by outworking teams.
The only difference, is now they’re doing it in front of the entire hockey world.
In the locker room following the game a reporter asked Bellemare why the world is just now discovering Nosek.
“Because you aren’t watching enough hockey, I guess,” Bellemare replied with a smile.