WINNIPEG, Manitoba — Jonathan Marchessault changed the dynamic of the Western Conference Final with two backhanded flicks of his stick.
The Golden Knights’ forward backed up his words with a pair of goals and helped the Knights take home-ice away from the Winnipeg Jets in a 3-1 win that evened the series at one game apiece.
Momentum and the series now shifts for the Knights to Game 3 at 6 p.m. Wednesday at T-Mobile Arena.
“We showed the hockey world we have earned the right to be here,” Marchessault said. “We’re definitely satisfied with our effort. Everyone showed up.”
Marchessault had said after his team fell 4-2 in Game 1 that the Knights would learn what they were made of Monday night. They played a more complete Game 2, from Marc-Andre Fleury turning aside 30 shots he faced, to the defense tightening up and keeping Winnipeg’s high-scoring forwards in check, to an improved forecheck from all four lines.
They also never trailed and quieted the boisterous white-clad sellout crowd of 15,321 at Bell MTS Place at every pivotal juncture.
“They had to respond in a big way and they did,” coach Gerard Gallant said of his team.
Marchessault knew he had to produce after his comments.
“If you’re going to talk out there and tell the media, you need to be able to back it up,” he said.
That he did, with some help from linemate Reilly Smith, who assisted on both of his goals after Tomas Tatar had given the Knights a 1-0 lead 13:23 into the game.
Marchessault’s first came on a breakaway after Smith won a battle in the neutral zone and found Marchessault. He made a nice move to his backhand and slid the puck between the legs of Connor Hellebuyck with 2:38 left in the first period.
The Jets pulled within 2-1 on Kyle Connor’s power-play goal 7:17 into the third period. But Marchessault got it back 1:28 later as Smith fed him cross-ice and he deked Hellebuyck and backhanded it over his right shoulder.
“They were two pretty goals but it was the result of hard work,” Gallant said.
Smith had talked about stepping up the line’s forecheck and they were able to create turnovers and opportunities.
“Our defense did a great job of turning our forecheck into a five-man unit,” Smith said. “Being able to close gaps really slowed down their pace.”
Some of the hardest work came from defenseman Nate Schmidt, who along with partner Brayden McNabb helped shut down Mark Scheifele’s line.
“I just tried to move my feet and stay with him and (McNabb) was a big help,” said Schmidt, who played a team-high 23:17 Monday. “You’re not going to shut down Scheifele by yourself. He’s too big and fast.
“I thought we did a better job in just managing the game (Monday). We tried to attack instead of letting it come to us. You want to play against great players and leave your mark on the game and I thought we did that.”
The Jets expected a better effort from the Knights in Game 2.
“We knew they were going to come out faster,” defenseman Jacob Trouba said. “I don’t think anybody in here minded our start. We liked it. We had some good chances and they capitalized on theirs. We knew they were going to be faster and that there would be more battles and that’s kind of where the game was different.”
Having avoided an 0-2 hole, the Knights know it’s up to them to take advantage of the opportunity they’ve given themselves as they return to Las Vegas.
“We’ve been resilient all season and we’ve shown an ability to bounce back,” Smith said. “It’s one game but we’re excited about it and we move on to the next one. But it’s nice to be coming back home even.”
1. Schmidt vs. Scheifele. Mark Scheifele has been the top scorer in the playoffs, but Nate Schmidt managed to control him in Game 2 by moving his legs and staying with the Jets’ talented center.
2. Nosek big in return. Tomas Nosek returned to the lineup in Game 2 after being a healthy scratch the last three games. He was back with his regular linemmate Pierre-Edouard Bellemare along with Ryan Reaves. Nosek also had two blocked shots while killing penalties.
3. Fleury good enough. Marc-Andre Fleury would like to take back that third-period power-play goal by Kyle Connor, but he had a strong bounce-back effort with 30 saves in Game 2. His defense played better in front of him and he also was better in Game 2.
Steve Carp Review-Journal