The Golden Knights lost five straight to the Washington Capitals after letting Imagine Dragons play before a game in the Stanley Cup Final.
Nate Schmidt put an end to that meme Tuesday.
The defenseman capped a hard-hitting and thoroughly entertaining affair with two goals in the final 1:24 to help the Knights to a 5-3 victory over Washington at T-Mobile Arena.
“That was an intense game, a lot of emotion, a lot of things blowing over from the (Stanley Cup Final). Our penalty kill guys did a great job,” Schmidt said. “(Coach Gerard Gallant) came in here after the second period, and hasn’t done this much, but really challenged our guys to go have a better third period, and up and down our lineup, guys responded, and that’s the most important part about this game.
“It was a big win, an emotional win, and I like the way our team responded to that challenge.”
Cody Eakin and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare had goals 16 seconds apart in the third period for the Knights, who played without left wing Max Pacioretty (illness).
Ryan Reaves added a power-play goal in the first period before he was given a five-minute major and ejected in the second.
Jakub Vrana scored twice for the Capitals, including the tying goal with 8:20 remaining in the third period.
“It was a good test,” Eakin said. “It was a good challenge for us, a measuring stick, whatever you want to call it. We know we have it in here, it’s just a matter of bringing it and maybe it fuels the fire a little bit and hopefully we can keep it rolling.”
Washington’s Nic Dowd received a double-minor for high-sticking at 14:46 of the third, and Schmidt notched the go-ahead goal on the power play against his former team with 1:24 remaining.
Schmidt crossed the blue line and made a quick move to his forehand before he wired a shot past Braden Holtby’s glove for his first goal.
Schmidt added an empty-net goal with 6.9 seconds left to send the announced crowd of 18,275 into a frenzy.
“Those games you play for. It’s why you’re in the NHL,” Bellemare said. “We lost over there, and now they come in our building and we try to stand up for ourselves, and I thought we did a pretty good job.”
The Capitals returned to T-Mobile Arena for the first time since Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final in June, and this game matched the intensity of that series with several hard hits.
The Capitals went ahead 2-1 at 11:42 of the second when Madison Bowey’s shot from the point went wide and Alex Ovechkin backhanded in the rebound from a sharp angle for his 20th of the year.
Four minutes later, Reaves delivered a crushing shoulder-to-shoulder hit to Wilson well after the Capitals’ rugged winger released the puck.
“He was just looking at his pass,” Reaves said, “and ran into a lion in the jungle.”
Wilson’s helmet flew off from the impact and he had to be helped off to the locker room after it appeared his head hit the ice.
Reaves was handed a five-minute major for interference and a game misconduct at 15:42, but the Knights, who own the league’s best penalty kill at home, held Washington’s potent power play in check and rallied with goals 16 seconds apart in the third period.
“That’s a lethal power play there, so I thought we did a really good job of forcing pressure down ice and kind of rattling them,” Eakin said. “When they got into the zone they were kind of tired or mismatched. That was big for us momentum-wise and big for our penalty kill, big for our team.”
Eakin put the Knights ahead 3-2 at 2:49 of the third period when he pounced on a rebound for his team-leading 11th goal. Bellemare tied the score at 2 moments earlier when he deflected Brayden McNabb’s shot from the point past Holtby.
“We usually have a pretty good self policing in here and guys take ownership and don’t need to (be challenged), but I love the way we responded to it those final 20 minutes,” Schmidt said. “This is why you play hockey, for games like this.”
Gallant set the tone by starting the fourth line of Bellemare, William Carrier and Reaves, and the Knights finished the first period with a 20-9 advantage in hits.
Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury wasn’t exempt from the physical play, as he was bowled over by Washington’s Brett Connolly a minute in, and Reaves converted on the power play.
Oscar Lindberg, who replaced Pacioretty in the lineup, threw a shot on net that Holtby couldn’t control. Eakin gathered the rebound and slid a pass to Reaves for his sixth goal, one shy of his career high.
Connolly made up for the earlier penalty when he set up the tying goal at 15:33 of the first.
He blocked a shot by Shea Theodore at the left point and tracked down the loose puck at the Knights’ blue line before sending a pass across the slot to a streaking Vrana for his seventh goal.