LAS VEGAS — The Vegas Golden Knights earned a victory in their first game in franchise history four years ago. They denied the Seattle Kraken the same accomplishment Tuesday night.
Max Pacioretty scored twice as the Golden Knights spoiled Seattle’s debut with a 4-3 win.
“I think our exhibition schedule was kind of up and down a little bit but we’ve got a veteran group and they know when it’s time to dial it up and be ready to play and I thought our group was ready to play tonight,” Vegas coach Peter DeBoer said.
Ryan Donato scored Seattle’s first goal in franchise history, while Jared McCann and Geekie added goals. Grubauer had 18 saves in his first game as a Kraken.
Chandler Stephenson and Jonathan Marchessault also scored for Vegas, while Robin Lehner made 25 saves.
After four years of cheering for Marc-Andre Fleury as the face of the franchise, an announced crowd of 18,431 gave Lehner and roar of approval during pregame introductions, and a raucous ovation after the final horn.
“I loved it,” DeBoer said of the fans’ reaction toward Lehner. “I’m glad the fans gave him that. I think he’s gonna be really good for us. This was a tough night that he’s been thinking about for a long time and he got us a big win.”
A big win that nearly eluded the Golden Knights, as they held off a rally from the NHL’s latest addition in what turned out to be a scrappy effort from the Kraken, who erased a 3-0 deficit and tied the game before Stephenson’s controversial game-winning goal midway through the third period pushed the Knights ahead for good.
“I think it kind of speaks to our character as a team,” Morgan Geekie said of the comeback. “We knew they were a good team coming in here, and they kind of paved the way. But I like the way we brought tonight, and I think we got better as the game went on.”
Geekie, who scored one of the goals, said his team was nervous early on.
“Yeah, definitely, 100 percent,” he said. “Obviously, you come into Vegas and it’s a spectacular city and they put on quite a show.”
Vegas captain Mark Stone, who had three assists, sent a pass to the crease where it appeared Stephenson may have kicked the puck past Seattle goaltender Phillip Grubauer. After an official review, the goal was held up.
“I know what I saw and believed … I thought it was a kicking motion,” Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said. “There’s a gray area on those calls. Their decision was it’s a good goal.”
Pacioretty and Marchessault gave the Golden Knights a 2-0 lead on two of Vegas’ first three shots on goal.
The Golden Knights ignited the crowd when Stephenson took a clean entry into a wide-open neutral zone and picked up momentum and fed Stone to send the Kraken one direction while Pacioretty skated down the left side. Stone promptly sent a crisp pass to Pacioretty, who beat Grubauer far side to give Vegas its first goal of the season.
Three minutes later it was one of the original members of the Golden Knights from their expansion season with some crafty stick handling, as Marchessault showed patience by skating in on Grubauer, then deked around him to the goal line before burying the puck to make it 2-0.
Though it appeared Nic Hague extended Vegas’ lead to 3-0 in the second period after taking a beauty of a pass from Stone, his wrist shot was later rewarded to Pacioretty who was at the doorstep for a deflection.
Donato gave the smattering of Kraken fans something to cheer about later in the period when he gathered a loose puck and backhanded past a sprawling Lehner who couldn’t get back in time. Less than a minute later, McCann’s shot to the crease from the right side trickled just under Lehner’s pad to cut Vegas’ lead to one and breathe life into Seattle’s bench.
Geekie skated into the right circle and beat Lehner top shelf to tie the game in the third period, then twirled his stick like a sword into a make-believe sheath in celebration.
The top line of Stone-Stephenson-Pacioretty finished with eight points. … McCann, Marcus Johansson, Jamie Oleksiak, and Joonas Donskoi were all cleared earlier in the day, while forward Calle Jarnkrok remained in the NHL’s COVID-protocol. … Vegas’ Mattias Janmark is also in COVID-protocol. … The Golden Knights improved to 91-0-1 in franchise history when leading by three goals. … Three goals were scored by those wearing No. 67 tonight (Pacioretty twice and Geekie).
Seattle travels to Nashville to play the Predators on Thursday