It wasn’t the Annexation of Puerto Rico, but it might have been more historic.
As Mark Stone creeped toward the goal line, puck intact, he waited until the last possible moment to find a cutting Max Pacioretty in front of Cam Talbot.
Pacioretty, on the precipice of vomitting after chasing Kirill Kaprizov for nearly a minute, had enough in the tank to finish a 2-on-1 and steal victory from the jaws of defeat for the Vegas Golden Knights.
It’s a 5-4 overtime victory that will go on the list of memorable moments for this 4-year-old franchise. On a night where 2,605 fans were allowed in T-Mobile Arena, the first such occurrence in 363 days, the Golden Knights rallied from two goals down in the third for a rare victory against the Minnesota Wild.
It wasn’t the usual 17,500-plus that have been known to pack “The Fortress,” but the impact they brought was more than enough on this night.
“Our fans are, by far, the best in pro sports,” Stone said. “This arena is the best arena in sports. They bring it no matter what. You could feel the energy skating out for warmup.”
You can hardly script nights like this. It’s a game featuring the top two teams in the West Division; the Golden Knights have long struggled against the formidable foe from Minnesota. Coming into Monday, the Golden Knights were 2-6-0 against the Wild and lost five of those matchups by at least two goals.
So, of course, the Golden Knights fell behind two goals entering the third period in one of the wildest second periods this season.
The teams combined for six goals in the middle stanza. Cody Glass got the Golden Knights on the board 7:09 into the frame, but Minnesota got two goals in 1:06 from Jordan Greenway and Marcus Foligno.
After Pacioretty scored his first of two goals at 13:41, the Wild struck yet again in quick fashion — twice in 19 seconds — from Foligno and Nick Bonino — to take a 4-2 lead after 40 minutes.
Even 12 minutes into the third period, the Golden Knights couldn’t break through Minnesota’s defense. Vegas didn’t have a shot on goal until 11:30 mark of the frame. Then, Nicolas Hague opened the bottle and poured a Haugerbomb from the point at 12:40 of the third to make it 4-3.
It wasn’t a flashy goal, but it woke the Golden Knights up. The crowd, no matter how limited, came to life, and propelled the home team. The Golden Knights outshot the Wild 11-3 in the third period, with six of them coming in the final 7:20 of regulation.
“I think that’s what’s great about our group; we’re never out of a game,” Hague said. “I think we could feel it coming, and for us to be able to keep fighting like that and find a way to get back in that game and get the job done, that’s what we do.”
And yet, despite nine total goals, the best player on the ice didn’t score any of them. Instead, he just had the primary assist on all five on the home side.
Stone waited until the first game with fans, as captain, to put on a performance for the ages. He became the first player since Artemi Panarin, and only the second in 25 years, to record five primary assists in a game.
The only players to have more include some guy named Gretzky (twice), Ron Francis, and Elmer Lach.
Ironically enough, Pete DeBoer joked with Stone at morning skate that he should shoot more. Who needs shooting?
Stone can go from scoring one point in his previous six games to erupting for a career-high out of nowhere. It’s nights like Monday where you can never discount his value.
Look no further than the tying goal from Alex Tuch with 41.6 seconds remaining.
Pacioretty’s bouncing pass from the endboards somehow skipped to Stone. The calm demeanor, from settling the puck down, and finding Tuch in front for the tip in front, is why he wears the ‘C.’
“I think that’s what five primary assists and a bunch of fans gets you,” Tuch said. “That’s why he’s our captain. He comes in every day with that work ethic and that enthusiasm.”
The Wild will remain a thorn in the Golden Knights’ side. They’ll still play each other seven more times, and each meeting likely the equivalent to this slobberknocker.
Wednesday, they’ll do it all again, with fans in the stands yet again, and normalcy somewhat restored.
And for one night, the gold helmets are not cursed. Because even on a night like this, everything is a winner.
“That was the story of the night,” DeBoer said. “What a difference just having them in the building. I thought our players did a great job acknowledging them. Just nice, a sense of normalcy to get people back.”