The Vegas Golden Knights will attempt to complete a sweep of their most challenging homestand of the season when they host the Florida Panthers on Saturday night in Las Vegas.
The five-game homestand began with a 6-5 overtime win over defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis, and that was followed by a 1-0 victory over the New York Islanders. The Golden Knights then posted a 3-2 victory over Metropolitan Division co-leader Washington and a 5-3 victory over red-hot Tampa Bay on Thursday, snapping the Lightning’s 11-game winning streak in the process.
Vegas had lost four consecutive games at T-Mobile Arena (0-3-1) before the start of the current homestand. The Golden Knights are 7-2-1 in their past 10 games overall and 8-3-2 since Peter DeBoer took over for Gerard Gallant as head coach.
“I think our group is starting to believe in each other and playing with some confidence,” DeBoer said. “We’re starting to score some goals, which always gives you a little margin for error.”
Defenseman Alec Martinez, obtained in a trade with the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday, paid immediate dividends with a goal and an assist in the win over Tampa Bay.
Fourth-line forward Ryan Reaves scored what proved to be the game-winning goal just 10 seconds into the third period. Reaves stole the puck from defenseman Braydon Coburn near the blue line and then muscled a shot from the right circle that beat goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy.
“I think any time you welcome a new guy, you always want them to have success and team success to follow that,” DeBoer said of acquiring Martinez, who played on a pair of Stanley Cup championship teams in Los Angeles.
“It was a night where a lot of things went right. So, we’ll enjoy it, but we still have got a lot of work to do.”
Added Reaves, known more for his physical play than his goal-scoring ways, “It’s been an up-and-down season, but we’re rolling right now. We have a lot of confidence in this room, and I think management has confidence in the group we have. They go and get a player (Martinez) that’s going to help us, and I think just like in this (locker) room, we believe we can win a Stanley Cup.”
Florida, which is 16-11-4 on the road this season, will be playing its fourth contest in six days on a five-game road trip.
The Panthers began their trek with a 5-3 victory at San Jose on Monday followed by a 4-1 win at Anaheim two nights later. Florida is coming in off a 5-4 loss at Pacific Division cellar-dwelling Los Angeles on Thursday.
Jonathan Huberdeau recorded his fourth four-point performance of the season by scoring one goal and setting up three others against the Kings. Captain Aleksander Barkov tallied twice in the loss.
“We’ve got to play hard every night and come out like it’s a playoff game because right now it is,” Huberdeau said. “We’ve got to have the right mentality — everybody. We can’t let these games (get away). … We’ve got to play better right now. We need these points.”
Florida resides two points behind third-place Toronto in the Atlantic Division.
This is the second of two meetings between the Golden Knights and the Panthers this season. Vegas, behind a regular-season team record five-point game by Mark Stone (two goals, three assists), posted a 7-2 win on Feb. 6 in Sunrise, Fla.
–Field Level Media