LAS VEGAS (AP)Hours before making his Vegas debut, Alec Martinez sat on the team bench, gazing onto a clean sheet of ice while collecting his thoughts inside an empty T-Mobile Arena, a place he called the loudest venue in the NHL.
The crowd of 18,376 roared when he was announced in the starting lineup.
”It’s obvious I was pretty emotional at the beginning there, feeding off the fans,” the veteran defenseman said. ”I had to tell myself to settle down a little bit.”
Martinez settled in nicely with a goal and an assist, and the Golden Knights stopped Tampa Bay’s 11-game win streak with a 5-3 victory over the Lightning on Thursday night.
It marked the first time in 23 games Tampa Bay allowed more than three goals and the fourth time in seven games Vegas scored five or more.
”It’s pretty incredible to be able to play with a hockey club of this caliber. I kept saying on the bench ‘This is a fun group to play with,”’ said Martinez, who was acquired in a trade with Los Angeles on Wednesday. ”It’s a little different when you’re on the same side, you kind of take notice at certain things that maybe you wouldn’t when you’re, obviously, on the other end of things.”
Martinez tied the game late in the first period, delighting the electric crowd. It was Martinez’s second goal of the season; he also scored at Vegas on Jan. 9.
Paul Stastny, Mark Stone, Ryan Reaves and Max Pacioretty also scored for the Golden Knights. Marc-Andre Fleury made 24 saves while improving to 21-13-4 against Tampa Bay.
Vegas earned its fourth straight win and improved to 8-3-2 under coach Pete DeBoer, who took over for the fired Gerard Gallant on Jan. 15. The win pushed the Golden Knights into first place in the Pacific Division, one point ahead of Edmonton.
Vegas’ streak also includes victories over playoff contenders St. Louis, Washington and the New York Islanders.
”That should give the group confidence because everyone’s playing really good hockey right now,” Pacioretty said. ”When you look at the process, it’s been there for the most part. We’ve given ourselves an opportunity to be in the hunt down the stretch, and this is the hard time of year.”
Under DeBoer, the Golden Knights rank first in the NHL with 36.2 shots per game and 26.7 shots allowed, fourth with 3.54 goals per game, and 12th in allowing 2.85 goals per game.
”I think our group is starting to believe in each other and playing with some confidence,” DeBoer said. ”It was a good team win for us.”
Especially coming against Andrei Vasilevskiy, who hadn’t lost in regulation since Dec. 14 against Washington. Vasilevskiy, who entered with a franchise-record point streak of 21 games (19-0-2), stopped 28 shots.
Steven Stamkos had two goals for Tampa Bay, and Kevin Shattenkirk also scored.
Tampa Bay jumped in front when Shattenkirk’s blind pass deflected off Vegas defenseman Nick Holden’s skate and past Fleury 7:02 into the first. Martinez’s one-timer tied the game, and Stastny got the lead for Vegas when he deflected Reilly Smith’s shot to the far side early in the second period.
Stamkos answered on the power play with a one-timer over Fleury’s stick, but Martinez helped Vegas take the lead for good about a minute later. Martinez started an odd-man rush when he poke-checked the puck from Tampa Bay’s Braydon Coburn at the blue line. Pacioretty raced into the zone and fed Stone, who deked Vasilevskiy with a forehand-to-backhand maneuver.
”We didn’t manage the puck and to give them a breakaway to a pretty darned good player, that’s the stuff we hadn’t been doing in the run we’re on,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said. ”And obviously the first minute of the third was the backbreaker for us.”
Vegas added a pair of goals less than a minute into the third. Reaves blocked a pass from Coburn, skated into the zone and blasted a shot past Vasilevskiy 10 seconds into the period. Pacioretty pushed the lead to three with his 28th goal.
NOTES: Tampa Bay C Brayden Point was scratched due to the flu. … Martinez’s goal and assist gave him 200 career points. … It was a franchise-record win streak for Tampa Bay, which last lost in overtime at Dallas on Jan. 27.
Lightning: Visit Arizona on Saturday.
Golden Knights: Host Florida on Saturday.
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