There were those who were questioning Cody Eakin’s value to the Golden Knights during the regular season as the veteran center struggled to be a consistent offensive threat.
The doubters may have been silenced given Eakin’s play in the postseason.
Eakin scored the first goal of the series 4:31 into Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals Thursday against the San Jose Sharks, setting an aggressive tone that the Sharks never matched. The Golden Knights never really slowed down as they took a 1-0 series lead and protected home ice with a 7-0 victory at T-Mobile Arena.
Eakin, who scored the game-tying goal in Game 3 of the Knights’ 3-2 win over Los Angeles in the opening round, deflected Brayden McNabb’s wrist shot from the point past Martin Jones to get the Knights on their way.
“It’s nice to get one early, especially at home. But I didn’t think it would be the last one,” Eakin said.
“Every shift matters. It’s the time of the year that everyone is trying to play their best hockey.”
The Knights would build a 4-0 lead through the game’s first 11:43, then chase Jones from the San Jose net early in the second period as the lead grew to 5-0.
“I didn’t think it would be the game-winner,” Eakin said. “But sometimes things happen and we kept the pressure on them. I don’t think it’ll be like that Saturday (in Game 2).”
Eakin has been a superb penalty killer all season, and that has carried over to the playoffs. He helped keep the Sharks off the scoreboard during the frenetic first period, when San Jose had three power-play opportunities, including a 5-on-3 advantage, but could not solve Marc-Andre Fleury.
“This is the time of the year where you want to be playing your best,” Eakin said. “It’s always been a fun time for me and I’m getting an opportunity to contribute. I’m just trying to take advantage of it.”
Coach Gerard Gallant said he has been happy with Eakin all along.
“He’s worked hard all year, but he’s stepped it up in the playoffs, scoring goals, killing penalties, making good plays with his line,” Gallant said. “We’re very happy with what Cody’s doing and I hope he keeps it going.”