There’s something about Tomas Nosek and Game 1 of a championship series.
A year ago while playing for Grand Rapids in the American Hockey League, Nosek scored the winning goal with 13.9 seconds remaining in the opening game of the Calder Cup final.
But that doesn’t compare to what he managed Monday night.
Nosek tallied twice in the third period, including the go-ahead goal with 10:16 remaining, to help the Golden Knights rally for a 6-4 victory over the Washington Capitals at T-Mobile Arena in the first game of the Stanley Cup Final.
“This is another level, so it feels great,” Nosek said. “We tried to keep the things simple and go hard to the net. I think that’s what made us good in the third period. We have to keep doing that. Just keep things simple and be hard on the forecheck and create some chaos in there.”
Ryan Reaves notched his second goal of the postseason early in the third period as the Knights’ fourth line produced all three goals in the third period to overturn a 4-3 deficit.
Reilly Smith added a goal and an assist for the Knights, who are seeking to become the first team from the four major North American sports leagues to win a championship in its inaugural season — excluding the first year of a league’s existence — since the 1950 Cleveland Browns captured the NFL title.
Since the finals went to the best-of-seven format in 1939, the winner of Game 1 has gone on to capture the Stanley Cup 78.2 percent of the time (61 of 78 series). Boston was the last team to rally for a series victory after losing Game 1 in 2011.
Game 2 of the series is at 5 p.m. Wednesday at T-Mobile Arena.
“I’m sure (Washington coach Barry Trotz is) not too happy with that game, and I’m not overly happy with that game,” Knights coach Gerard Gallant said. “But the bottom line is we won the game, so we’re going to be a bit happier than they are. It was a bit of a sloppy game and two teams feeling each other out. I’m sure the next game is going to be a better game.”
Game 1 was a back-and-forth affair with a Stanley Cup Final-record four lead changes and a handful of costly defensive breakdowns by both teams.
Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury accidentally kicked the puck into his own net 1:10 into the third period to put Washington ahead 4-3 after he made the initial save on Tom Wilson’s redirection.
The rugged Wilson was then involved in the first major flash point of the series when he drilled Jonathan Marchessault near center ice after the Knights forward released the puck.
Another look at Wilson’s hit on Marchessault pic.twitter.com/f7CxFarqEf
— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) May 29, 2018
The play fired up the announced crowd of 18,575 along with the home team.
“We were upset about it,” Gallant said. “It was a big hit, and Wilson’s a great hockey player. He’s a competitive guy and an old-school player. For me, it’s a late hit.
“We’re going to stand up for our players, and Marchessault is one of our stars and we don’t like to see that happen, but we reacted real well to it. We won the hockey game and came back and got two goals after that.”
Nosek, who has a modest three-game point streak, stationed himself at the back post and one-timed a perfect feed from defenseman Shea Theodore for a 5-4 Knights lead.
“I expected it right away, and that’s why I moved from the goalie’s eyes to back door because I knew he was going to pass it to me,” Nosek said.
In the final minute, Nosek slid on the ice to block a shot by Washington’s Alex Ovechkin. David Perron cleared the puck out of the Knights zone and Nosek scored into the empty net uncontested.
“I think that’s one of the biggest things about this team when something goes wrong, we bounce back quickly,” Reaves said. “I don’t know how many times the other team’s scored in the playoffs and the next shift or two we go out and score.”
The Capitals are making their first appearance in the finals since 1998 and were 8-2 on the road in the postseason before Monday.
Washington blanked Tampa Bay in the final two games of the Eastern Conference Final, but couldn’t hold leads of 2-1 and 4-3 against the Knights.
“We didn’t find our game tonight and we only lose by a goal, so that’s a good sign,” Washington forward Brett Connolly said. “I thought they were a little quicker than us. We were right there. Just got to bury it. We now what they’re all about now.”
The Knights controlled the first 13-plus minutes of an action-packed first period, holding Washington to one shot on goal.
Colin Miller’s slap shot from the point 7:15 into the first beat Braden Holtby clean to end the goaltender’s 166:42 scoreless streak that dated back to the second period of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final.
After good work along the wall by Washington’s third line, Connolly redirected Michal Kempny’s shot from the point to tie the score at 1.
The Capitals then took the lead with 4:37 remaining in the period when nobody for the Knights picked up Nicklas Backstrom, who beat Fleury with a backhand from in tight after T.J. Oshie lost control of the puck on a wraparound attempt.
“I didn’t expect it to be like that,” Smith said. “It was a little too wild and too wide open for what we wanted to play.”
William Karlsson answered for the Knights with 1:41 remaining when he grabbed the rebound after Smith’s shot went wide and stuffed it in for his seventh goal of the postseason.
Smith put the Knights up 3-2 at 3:21 of the second period, but Washington equalized about five minutes later when defenseman John Carlson jumped into the play and backhanded a pass from Oshie into an open net.
“Every win is important, especially the first one,” Nosek said. “But it’s just one. We have to keep focused on Game 2 and keep the home-ice advantage.”
1. Engelland on the board. Defenseman Deryk Engelland was one of three players to appear in the postseason for the Knights without a point. He picked up an assist on William Karlsson’s first-period goal and another on Reilly Smith’s goal in the second, leaving William Carrier and Jon Merrill as the only Knights yet to record a point.
2. Physical play. Washington right winger Tom Wilson dished out a game-high nine hits, including a bone-crunching check on Jonathan Marchessault in the third period that resulted in an interference penalty. Marchessault was sent to the locker room with 14:07 remaining for concussion protocol and eventually returned.
3. Ice issues. The ice surface at T-Mobile Arena appeared to be affected by the Memorial Day heat. Pucks were bouncing, players were falling, and the area near the Stanley Cup Final logo inside the blue line had to be repaired on two occasions.