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Graney: Party’s over for Golden Knights, who begin stretch run

Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson was roundly booed when introduced and then scored the second-fastest goal in All-Star Game history. A whopping 13 seconds.

Gritty the mascot kept signing people’s heads.

And there’s every chance Pete DeBoer was hungover.

What a fantastic ending to NHL All-Star Weekend in Las Vegas.

It would have been impossible to outshine the skills competition from the previous day, but some of the good-natured postgame ribbing Saturday at T-Mobile Arena did its best to comply.

DeBoer’s side lost its semifinal matchup to the Metropolitan Division 6-4, sending the Golden Knights boss and his Pacific Division roster home early.

Things were a bit slow to start and then a lot in between. The legs appeared wobbly. The boys no doubt had some fun this weekend. Wilson made them pay in a blink.

“A devastating loss,” DeBoer said jokingly. “We just had a great week. The guys who will be most upset is my coaching staff, because I told them I’d split the winnings with them. I’m sure they were already spending it.

“The (start) was probably due to some late-night Vegas activities.”

The kid lost on his home ice as head coach. What horror.

This was Las Vegas from beginning to end in the past several days, marketing the game, selling the game, highlighting the game’s stars like no other city can. The town scored a hat trick and then some in hosting the festivities.

Real hockey returns

But the fun is over now, and it’s back to serious hockey for the Knights. Which means back to being the child awaiting for Christmas morning to unwrap all the presents.

The Knights haven’t known such a luxury this season, a ridiculous number of injury- and COVID-19-related missed games defining a team that still sits atop the Pacific.

“For coaches, it’s in our DNA to be control freaks,” DeBoer said last week. “But I’ve had to release some of that stuff this season. You literally might change a lineup two to three times some nights. So as I have released some of the control, I’ve realized how much credit our players deserve.”

They’ve learned to win different ways, because it’s not just the number of players who have missed time but often the types of ones. They’ve relied more and more on their systems. But they’re still among the best in creating scoring chances. They’re still a tough out any given night. They’re still really, really good.

Jack Eichel is reportedly on his way to playing sooner than later, the star center acquired from Buffalo and still recovering from neck surgery. Alec Martinez could soon make his first appearance since Nov. 11, when the defenseman suffered a serious facial laceration and head injury.

Here’s the thing: This could actually all pay off when it matters most. If the playoffs are about anything, it’s the side that can show the most resilience when things get tough. Few teams exist as such than the Knights right now.

So should the postseason arrive and yet another injury bug hit the team, DeBoer has a simple message to impart: You have been here before and handled it. Do so again.

Nothing like it

“Pretty hard not to think about when everyone is healthy what we might look like,” All-Star forward Mark Stone said. “We just added one of the best players in the world (in Eichel) in November.

“So when you look at it when everyone gets back … it’s going to be awesome.”

Christmas morning usually is. Here we go. Fun is over. Back to work. To serious hockey.

Which means it will be a tad tougher for DeBoer to set his lines than it was Saturday.

“I’ll be honest,” he said. “I’m a little hungover today. I was fully focused on the skills contest, but today is a little foggy for me.”

All-Star Weekend. Nothing like it.

Especially in Las Vegas. It was special, all right.

Ed Graney is a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing and can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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