NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Golden Knights might look back on Wednesday and say 0.3 seconds saved their season.
It’s a dramatic thought, but one that felt fully earned in the aftermath of the chaos that engulfed Bridgestone Arena.
The Knights, 0-2-1 in their last three games and 2-6-2 in their past 10, were dead to rights against the Nashville Predators. Then a series of tiny but crucial plays ensued, resulting in a 4-3 overtime victory in the most dramatic finish of the franchise’s three-year history.
The Knights trailed 3-2 and had pulled goaltender Malcolm Subban for an extra attacker when the Predators iced the puck with less than 15 seconds remaining. Left wing Jonathan Marchessault, knowing every second was precious, hustled after it.
He retrieved it from behind his own net, skated it through the neutral zone, dumped it in from the blue line and kept going after it. He knocked it off the stick of Predators defenseman Dan Hamhuis, and right wing Reilly Smith picked it up.
Smith passed the puck to right wing Mark Stone in the slot. Stone then fired a no-look, backhand pass to left wing Max Pacioretty with 0.8 seconds left.
Pacioretty, who boasts the best wrist shot on the team, needed 0.5 seconds to tie the score.
The Knights, on the precipice of total collapse, had life with 0.3 seconds left. And center Paul Stastny’s overtime winner 1:52 into the extra period seemed inevitable as the team escaped with the victory and far more confidence than it arrived with.
“Talk about every second counts,” Stastny said.
The win exorcised all kinds of demons for the Knights. It showed they could win in overtime after entering the game 0-4 in games decided via 3-on-3. It showed they could win a game without star goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury after entering 0-5-2 in games in which he didn’t start. And it showed they could finish after entering 0-1-2 when tied after two periods.
The Knights gave up a tiebreaking goal to Matt Duchene 1:23 into the third period but closed at the end.
“We had to use every last second of (the clock),” Pacioretty said. “We had everybody on board tonight. It just felt like eventually we were going to break through.”
The Knights needed that last break after their 2-0 lead 6:33 into the second period turned into 3-2 deficit on Duchene’s goal. It all started with Marchessault’s hustle, because if he was a step slower retrieving the puck, the clock would have expired.
He also made a smart play to dump the puck and keep chasing after it because all the Predators’ skaters were flat-footed as he approached the offensive zone. Then Smith supported him, and Stone showed why the Knights are paying him $9.5 million annually with his setup to Pacioretty.
“I was just trying to forecheck,” Marchessault said. “Great heads-up play by (Smith) and (Stone), and (Pacioretty) just did what we expect from (Pacioretty). He scores goals.”
The Knights carried their momentum into overtime. Defenseman Nate Schmidt created a 2-on-0 with Stastny after intercepting a pass from left wing Calle Jarnkrok 1:44 into the extra period. Schmidt passed to Stastny as the two skated past the faceoff dots, and Stastny beat goaltender Juuse Saros for his 700th career point.
One miraculous standings point suddenly turned into two.
“For us to come back and score that (tying) goal against a good team, it was unbelievable,” Subban said. “And then to get the overtime winner was just … I blacked out after that.”
He probably wasn’t the only one. The win was a jolt of lightning for a team that had been searching for a spark. It got it. And now the Knights have to see how far they can go with it.
“It was pretty exciting to win a game like that,” coach Gerard Gallant said. “We needed something like that for our team. Tonight, to score late like that and then win it in overtime, it’s huge for our team.”