WINNIPEG, Manitoba — The Florida Panthers have a banner extolling the accomplishment of having a record 33 wins by an NHL expansion franchise.
That banner was rendered irrelevant thanks to the Golden Knights, who made hockey history Thursday with their 34th win as David Perron’s goal with 1:03 left in overtime beat the Winnipeg Jets 3-2 at Bell MTS Place.
In the 1993-94 season, the Panthers and the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim each won 33 times in 84 league games. The Knights (34-12-4, 72 points) won No. 34 in 50 games.
“It’s great,” coach Gerard Gallant said of the milestone. “But it doesn’t mean a whole lot right now to be honest with you. We’re just trying to battle to get two points every night. But at the end of the season we’ll look back on it and be happy.”
Perron, whose game-winner was his 13th goal, also assisted on Erik Haula’s second-period power-play goal. He said it’s better to wait until the end of the season and see what you accomplished before celebrating.
“Once we got to 30 wins, we knew we were going to get there,” he said of the record. “But it’s important that we keep looking at things day-to-day and keep trying to get better.”
The Knights were trying to hold on when Kyle Connor scored with 2:36 left to pull the Jets even 2-2 and get the crowd of 15,321 back into it. Winnipeg had four great opportunities to win it in overtime but Marc-Andre Fleury scrambled and dived to keep the puck out.
“It got a little hectic there,” said Fleury, who was knocked down during a scramble after Josh Morrissey’s shot teetered in the crease but was cleared by his teammates. “Guys were flying everywhere. But I love it and I was happy when David scored.”
Winnipeg took a 1-0 lead after Fleury misplayed the puck behind his net and Matt Hendricks pounced on it and passed to Joel Armia, who deposited it into a wide-open net 15:10 into the game.
“I should have moved it along quicker,” said Fleury, who made 24 saves for his 14th win of the year. “I waited too long.”
Reilly Smith tied the score at 12:10 in the second period with a short-handed goal. He checked Blake Wheeler off the puck in the Winnipeg zone, walked in and beat Connor Hellebuyck for his 14th goal as Colin Miller was in the penalty box for holding. It was the second straight game Smith had scored after going goal-less in his previous six.
Haula’s power-play goal with 1:30 remaining in the second period was challenged by the Jets. They claimed goaltender interference by James Neal as Haula put the loose puck past Hellebuyck. But the goal, Haula’s 19th, stood after review. It marked the fourth straight game in which Haula has scored.
The play didn’t sit well with Jets coach Paul Maurice.
“The goaltender interference rule covers anything that goes on,” he said. “We can’t have people swinging their sticks at goaltenders’ heads. You can’t have that in the game.”
Hellebuyck stopped 28 shots. But he couldn’t get to Perron’s wrist shot in OT, which made franchise history and gave the Knights a 2-0 start on a six-game road trip.
“Right now, we’re pretty good and we’re finding ways to win,” said forward Jonathan Marchessault. “We just think of the next battle, and we just have to keep going.”
1. Special teams excel. The Knights scored a power-play goal for the fifth straight game and killed off all three penalties against the NHL’s second-best power play Thursday. “If your special teams are playing well, you’re probably going to win a lot of hockey games,” Knights coach Gerard Gallant said. His team’s special teams are indeed playing well right now.
2. Top guns silent. The Jets’ top scorers Blake Wheeler and Patrik Laine were held off the scoresheet as the Knights did a good job of working to keep them from dominating. The duo were limited to just three shots combined.
3. Heavy game. There were 45 hits registered by the two teams and a lot of big hits from both sides throughout. The Knights wound up taking the regular season series, 2-1, and if these teams were to meet in the playoffs, it would be a heck of a series. They’re evenly matched and it would make for some compelling hockey.
Steve Carp Las Vegas Review-Journal