Updated April 1, 2018 - 1:03 am
A loud murmur rumbled through T-Mobile Arena during the third period Saturday night, as a season-high crowd of 18,458 wasn’t sure what they just witnessed.
When the replay of William Karlsson’s between-the-legs, breakaway goal was shown on the video scoreboard, the murmur turned into a massive roar.
“Unbelievable,” Knights defenseman Shea Theodore said. “I don’t know how he did that.”
Karlsson’s spectacular, go-ahead goal with 11:25 remaining lifted the Knights to a 3-2 victory over San Jose and clinched the Pacific Division title in style.
The Knights are the first modern-era expansion team from any of the four North American professional sports leagues to win its division in its inaugural season (excluding mergers and all-expansion divisions), according to Elias Sports Bureau.
“It’s a great feeling to win our division. Obviously nobody had those expectations at the first of the season, but as we know, our team grew on everybody and we played hard and we worked hard all season long,” Knights coach Gerard Gallant said. “It’s a great accomplishment, but we all know what the real accomplishment would be. It’s all about the playoffs.”
Karlsson’s 42nd goal capped a memorable evening, as the Knights (50-22-7, 107 points) joined Tampa Bay and Nashville as the only teams with 50 wins.
With his team short-handed, Karlsson tapped the puck past San Jose defenseman Brent Burns at the Knights blue line to create a clean breakaway.
Karlsson avoided the pokecheck by Sharks goaltender Martin Jones and, with his stick tucked between his legs, lifted a shot into the top corner.
Karlsson is tied for third in the NHL in goals with Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin, three behind leader Alex Ovechkin of Washington.
“I don’t know. I had a great spot to pull that move and what can I say? It went in,” Karlsson said. “It’s nothing you really practice, it just happens.
“It’s just instinct. When you black out, that’s usually when you do well. Don’t overthink it.”
Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury made 29 saves, including a key stop on San Jose’s Mikkel Boedker on the doorstep with 3:41 remaining. He passed Grant Fuhr for 11th on the all-time list with his 404th career victory.
The final home game of the regular season featured an emotional pregame ceremony honoring the victims and first responders from the Oct. 1 mass shooting on the Strip.
The team raised a “Vegas Strong” banner with 58 stars and the names of those who died and retired No. 58.
The Knights fed off the early energy and took the lead 2:21 into the first period. Deryk Engelland moved the puck to Karlsson in the right corner and he found Theodore, who capped the tic-tac-toe passing sequence with a wrist shot from the point for his sixth goal of the season.
San Jose withstood the early flurry from the Knights and tied the score at 7:14 of the first.
Joonas Donskoi hopped on a loose puck below the goal line and fed Timo Meier in the slot. Fleury kicked out Meier’s drive, but Joe Pavelski corralled the rebound and slid it in for his 21st goal of the season.
Oscar Lindberg, who returned to the lineup Wednesday after missing 14 straight games, put the Knights ahead 2-1 at 3:03 of the second period with his first goal since Dec. 23.
Ryan Reaves dished out a hard hit in the corner to force a poor clearance by San Jose’s Kevin Labanc. Theodore held the puck at the point, and Lindberg redirected his shot for his eighth of the season.
The Sharks answered midway through the second during a delayed penalty against the Knights. Defenseman Brayden McNabb blocked Pavelski’s long shot, but the puck fell to Marc-Edouard Vlasic, and Fleury could only get a piece of the backhander from the Sharks defenseman.
“We definitely didn’t expect it, but we knew around Christmas we had a pretty good team,” Knights forward Jonathan Marchesault said. “We just kept going, and we kept winning. It’s been a great experience.”
1. The call stands. The Golden Knights unsuccessfully challenged Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s second-period goal for goaltender interference. It was the second time in four games the Knights lost a challenge and they’re 1-8 on goalie interference challenges (4-8 overall).
2. Theodore steps up. Defenseman Shea Theodore played one of his better games of the season. He had two points (one goal, one assist) and posted a team-high six shots on goal while earning the game’s second star.
3. Fan appreciation. The Knights stayed on the ice after the game to participate in a postgame ceremony. The fans, who helped the Knights finish 29-10-2 at home, were voted the first star of the game.