WINNIPEG, Manitoba — Sixteen days ago, Ryan Reaves was watching the Golden Knights’ playoff run from the press box at T-Mobile Arena as a healthy scratch.
Sunday, he scored his first goal as a Knight — the game-winner that put his new team in the Stanley Cup Final.
Reaves’ second-period goal in Game 5 of the Western Conference Final broke a 1-1 tie as the Knights prevailed 2-1 and eliminated the Winnipeg Jets, taking four straight after dropping the opening game of the best-of-seven series.
Reaves, skating on the fourth line with Tomas Nosek and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, deflected Luca Sbisa’s wrist shot from the point over Connor Hellebuyck’s shoulder and just under the crossbar with about six minutes left in the second period. It would be the only shot he was credited for in the 7 1/2 minutes he played Sunday, but he made it count.
“The whole mentality of this team is ‘next man up,’” Reaves said. “We’ve got a deep team. We’ve got a lot of good players.”
Reaves, who along with a fourth-round draft pick, was acquired in a trade from the Pittsburgh Penguins for minor league forward Tobias Lindberg on Feb. 23. He was in and out of the lineup for the remainder of the regular season and didn’t get his first playoff ice time until Game 6 of the second round against San Jose on May 6.
“He makes people play quicker,” coach Gerard Gallant said of how the 31-year-old Reaves can change the tempo of a game with his size and speed. “He worked hard and always stayed prepared. When we put him in against San Jose he played well for us and he gave me no reason to take him out (against Winnipeg).”
Reaves, who is from Winnipeg, said it felt good to hear boos inside Bell MTS Place after he scored, especially given the impact the goal had on the outcome.
Ryan Reaves on playing in hometown: "Hearing the boos after I scored was probably my favorite moment of this series. It's been a little weird. I have a couple cousins that came in Jets jerseys; a best friend came in white T-shirt, so they're going to hear about that after."
— David Schoen 📰🗞🏒 (@DavidSchoenLVRJ) May 20, 2018
He was also happy to make teammate David Perron’s words come true. Prior to Game 5, Perron said it would be great if Reaves could be the hero and score a big goal against the Jets.
“We’re all happy for him,” Perron said of Reaves. “He scores that goal and we’re all celebrating on the bench and I thought to myself, ‘Damn, I can’t believe I called that one.’ But he’s a great teammate and I’m very happy that he came through.”
Reaves said he just had to be patient and wait for his chance to contribute.
“You look at the season this team’s had even before I got here, everybody’s stepping up,” he said. “The guys that weren’t playing, myself included, we stayed ready. We had fun while we were doing it, but we worked hard so when we were called upon we were ready to go.”
Reaves celebrated with a postgame pepperoni pizza, perhaps a tribute to his blue-collar game. But it was a day he’ll never forget as he became part of franchise lore.
“It was definitely special,” he said. “It was great to do it in front of my family. But I had a couple of cousins wearing Jets jerseys and a friend in a white shirt. I think I’m going to have to have a talk with them.”