DALLAS — Ryan Reaves often is his own harshest critic, and the veteran right wing gave a blunt assessment of his play during the first 40 minutes Friday.
“I was trash for two periods,” he said, “so I figured I had to do something.”
Reaves scored the go-ahead goal early in the third period, and the Golden Knights’ penalty kill preserved a 2-1 victory over the Dallas Stars at American Airlines Arena.
The victory pushed the Knights (39-27-5) six points ahead of idle Arizona for third place in the Pacific Division with 11 games remaining.
“When we play our best hockey, it starts in the defensive end, and that’s really important to our group,” Vegas coach Gerard Gallant said. “I don’t want us to be a high-flying team. I want us to be a good, solid team and find ways to grind out wins like we did tonight.”
Max Pacioretty notched his team-leading 22nd goal 18 seconds into the game — the second-fastest goal in team history — and Marc-Andre Fleury finished with 40 saves to help the Knights win for the seventh time in their past eight games and sweep the season series with the Stars.
The Knights successfully killed penalties to defenseman Nate Schmidt and center William Karlsson in the final 5:22, including a 6-on-4 advantage for the majority of the second power play.
Defensemen Deryk Engelland and Brayden McNabb were on the ice for nearly the entirety of both penalty kills to help the Knights hold on.
Dallas finished 0-for-5 with the man advantage.
“One-goal games are important,” Pacioretty said. “I feel we had a couple opportunities to make it more than a one-goal lead. But still sticking with it and being able to come out on top is important at this point in the season.”
Fleury improved to 6-0 with a 0.83 goals-against average and .973 save percentage since Feb. 26, and the Vezina Trophy candidate claimed his 35th victory to move ahead of San Jose’s Martin Jones for the NHL lead.
Fleury allowed Roope Hintz’s breakaway goal at 4:04 of the first period but has stopped 178 of the past 183 shots he’s faced.
Dallas defenseman Taylor Fedun rang a shot off the crossbar with seven minutes to play, and Stars leading scorer Tyler Seguin missed an open net with Fleury out of position in the final 10 seconds.
“It was close all night, not much space out there,” Fleury said. “I thought the penalty kill for us was great all game because they have a good power play and we did well. I thought it was a game-changer for us.”
Dallas was playing the second game of a back-to-back after its win at Minnesota on Thursday and limited the Knights’ chances through the first two periods.
But after some good work down low by fourth-line wing Ryan Carpenter, Dallas goaltender Anton Khudobin (35 saves) gave up a rebound on Pierre-Edouard Bellemare’s shot, and Reaves pounced for his ninth goal and first since Jan. 6.
The Knights, who hadn’t played since Sunday’s loss at Calgary, got off to a blazing start when Pacioretty whipped a low shot past Khudobin. It was the second-fastest goal in franchise history behind Karlsson’s marker 14 seconds into the Knights’ 6-0 win over San Jose on Nov. 24.
“These games and going into playoffs are going to be tight matches,” Reaves said. “Having the resiliency to go through the full 60 and obviously a couple pucks weren’t going in the net for us, but not getting frustrated and sticking with it, that’s what you’ve got to get going right now.”
1. Penalty shot, denied. Golden Knights center William Karlsson was hauled down on a short-handed breakaway early in the second period and was awarded a penalty shot. Karlsson looped in from the left wing and fired a shot that Dallas goalie Anton Khudobin kicked out. It was the Knights’ third penalty shot this season.
2. Nosek back. Knights left wing Tomas Nosek returned to the lineup on the third line after he missed Sunday’s game at Calgary with a minor lower-body injury. Nosek had one shot on goal in 11:18 of ice time, though he did not play in the final 6:49.
3. Moving up. Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury was named first star of the game in his 796th career appearance after turning away 40 Dallas shots. Fleury passed Hall of Famer Rogie Vachon for 17th on the all-time games played list. Next up for Fleury is Nikolai Khabibulin (799 games).
David Schoen Review-Journal