SAN JOSE, Calif. — Golden Knights forward Ryan Reaves could barely contain the display of pure joy he felt as the sold-out SAP Center crowd booed his smiling face on the giant scoreboard while he sat on the bench during the second period Saturday night.
Even after the Sharks handed the Knights their fifth straight loss on a Brent Burns power-play goal just 22 seconds into overtime, Reaves couldn’t help but crack another smile.
“I love getting booed,” he said after the 4-3 defeat. “I’ve always wanted to get booed in (road) buildings. It’s always been a dream of mine.
“I hope (they remember it).”
They won’t have enough time to forget.
Saturday night’s physical affair set the stage for what will almost assuredly be a first-round matchup when the playoffs begin in less than two weeks. The Sharks clinched home-ice in that potential series with Saturday’s victory.
Reaves was issued a minor for roughing and a 10-minute misconduct penalty for his role in a first-period skirmish that saw all 10 skaters mixing it up. Joe Thornton, who jabbed at Reaves’ neck with his stick, was also called for high-sticking.
“What’s he going to do?” Reaves asked. “Fight me? (He) speared me in the eye. Little baby jabs.
“I think that’s exactly how it’s going to be in the playoffs. That was just a little preview, and I think both teams knew that and came out firing. I love that stuff. It’s my favorite.”
William Carrier of the Knights (42-30-7) and San Jose’s Barclay Goodrow also received five-minute fighting majors in the second period.
“I thought it was a little chippy with lots of chirping going on both ways,” Knights coach Gerard Gallant said. “It was a good game, though. There was lots of yipping going on between the benches and that, but neither team crossed the line. They played hard and there were some big hits, but that’s hockey and that’s getting ready for the playoffs.”
Between the fights and the big hits, there was also a tremendous hockey game between two of the top teams in the Western Conference who both came in struggling and appear set for a rematch of a series the Knights won 4-2 last season on their way to the Stanley Cup Final.
San Jose snapped a seven-game losing streak when Burns ripped a one-timer past Malcolm Subban off a cross-ice feed from Logan Couture in a game they trailed after both the first and second periods.
The Sharks (44-25-9) took their first lead of the game when Marc-Edouard Vlasic fired a shot past Subban off a faceoff 11:26 into the third period. Shea Theodore answered for Vegas on an almost identical play just 38 seconds later.
William Karlsson and Cody Eakin had each given the Knights the lead on goals earlier in the game only to have San Jose answer each time.
“I thought we played pretty good,” Karlsson said. “It was a tight game, and they scored on a power play in OT. That was the difference.
“It was a little different than other games. I guess it had a bit of a playoff feel to it.”
The players may not be as willing to take as many penalties when the games matter more in the postseason, but Eakin believes his team showed it can keep its composure.
“Playoffs you want to stick to the game plan a little more and not run around as much,” he said. “But for the most part, they were trying to act a little tougher than we were and we did a good job sticking up for each other.”
That’s never a problem for Reaves.
“I’m definitely not known for the goal scoring,” he said. “I’ve got to bring the energy however I can and in these games I have to lead the way.”
It won’t make him very popular when the Knights return to San Jose next month, and he’s just fine with that.