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Golden Knights win inaugural NHL game, 2-1

Updated October 6, 2017 - 10:23 pm

DALLAS — They were Vegas Tough, all right.

Vegas Resilient too. And Vegas Lucky at times as well.

The Golden Knights, skating for the first time as an NHL franchise and playing for a city still on the mend following Sunday’s mass shootings on the Las Vegas Strip, exemplified everything general manager George McPhee had in mind when he built this team over the past three-plus months.

They scrapped. They sacrificed. They battled. They didn’t panic when trailing 1-0 midway through the third period. And with veterans James Neal and Marc-Andre Fleury leading the way, the Knights made their historic debut as Las Vegas’ first major league professional sports team a successful one, defeating the Dallas Stars, 2-1 in front of a sellout crowd of 18,532 at American Airlines Center.

With majority owner Bill Foley joining fans at a team watch party at Topgolf Las Vegas, the Knights saw Neal score twice, in a seven-minute, 11-second span, becoming a trivia answer and a hero. His first was the first for the franchise, a wrist shot from the top of the right faceoff circle, sailed past backup goaltender Kari Lehtonen with 9:33 remaining, tying the game at 1-1.

Lehtonen had replaced Ben Bishop four minutes into the third period after Bishop took a puck to the face on a shot by Reilly Smith.

The winner saw Neal work a 2-on-1 with Cody Eakin who passed him the puck as he skated down the right side. He was sliding on his right knee but managed to flick the puck over Lehtonen with 2:44 to play.

“He’s a goal-scorer and he made a great play,” Smith said. “It was good to have him on the ice.”

Fleury then took care of the rest, He had kept his team in the game as the Stars unleashed a barrage of shots throughout the contest. But other than Tyler Seguin’s redirect of Devin Shore’s shot from the point during a second-period Dallas power play, Fleury was seamless. He stopped 45 shots and was selected as the game’s No. 1 star.

“I expect to stop them all,” Fleury said afterward. “But it’s a great win for us. We’re a new team and everyone kept working hard. It’s exciting to win the first game.”

The Stars had several golden opportunities to retake the lead, the best coming off the stick of Alexander Radulov, who was six feet away with nothing but an empty net to shoot at and Fleury down and out with 3:42 to go. But Radulov missed the net, air-mailing the puck into the protective netting over the glass.

Coach Gerard Gallant said he doesn’t expect Fleury to have to stop 45 shots every night. But he’s glad his goalie is capable of doing so when called upon.

“We worked hard all game,” Gallant said. “We stuck around, we got a couple of good opportunities and we capitalized on them.”

Gallant said Neal, a 23-goal scorer with Nashville last season who missed the entire preseason as he recovered from hand surgery, came through just hours after being activated from the injured reserve list.

“It was his first game of the year, and he’s probably going to be pretty tired (Saturday morning),” Gallant said. “But he played well and he capitalized on his chances, which is what a goal-scorer does.”

As his triumphant players headed for the bus for the flight to Phoenix and Saturday’s game against the Arizona Coyotes, McPhee was smiling in the near-empty locker room. On the opening night for the franchise, his team had delivered.

“They battled,” McPhee said. “They never gave up. They never gave in.

“They deserve it. They came back and won it. And I’m happy for (owner) Bill Foley.”

Contact Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913. Follow @stevecarprj on Twitter.

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