Although Gerard Gallant downplayed Vegas’ latest win against his former team, Jonathan Marchessault — who played under Gallant with Florida — made it clear how important it was.
Erik Haula scored the go-ahead goal midway through the third period and the Golden Knights beat the Panthers 5-2 Sunday.
Marchessault said the team wanted to win for Gallant, who they affectionately call “Turk,” as much as the Golden Knights wanted to win for Marc-Andre Fleury on Thursday, against his former team — the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins.
“It’s like last game for (Fleury),” Marchessault said. “We wanted that win so much for him (and) I think tonight was the same thing. We wanted this win for Turk. It just ended on such a terrible note, I think he’s feeling pretty happy right now.
“It’s our old team and we wanted to get that win. We have a good thing going on right here.”
After a loss at Carolina on Nov. 28, 2016, dropped the Panthers to 11-10-1 on the season, Gallant was immediately fired. And rather than riding with the team to the airport, he removed his luggage from the team bus and hailed a cab to the airport.
A little more than a year later, Gallant is all smiles in leading the surprising expansion Golden Knights, who improved to 21-9-2 and moved into first place in the Pacific Division. They are tied with Los Angeles with 44 points, but have the tiebreaker by having played two fewer games.
“It (was) another game for me,” Gallant said. “I was fortunate enough to be with that team for 2 1/2 years as a head coach and enjoyed every minute of it. I get ready for this game the same way I get ready for every game. It doesn’t make one bit of a difference to me.”
Nate Schmidt, Colin Miller, Marchessault and James Neal also scored for Vegas, while goalie Malcolm Subban stopped 16 shots. The 18 shots by Florida were its fewest of the season, four less than its previous low of 22 against Anaheim on Oct. 26.
“You knew how much it meant to (Reilly Smith) and how much it meant to Marchy and how much it meant to the staff,” Schmidt said. “As much as we try and play it down, everybody has that little added (momentum) when they face a former team or former employer.”
Vegas is now 8-0-0 with 39 shots or more in a game, and has tallied 40 or more shots-on-goal in six games this season.
Radim Vraba and Mike Matheson scored for the Panthers, while James Reimer stopped 35 shots.
With the score tied 2-2, Haula gave the Golden Knights their first lead of the game when he was left alone to the left of Reimer to tip Marchessault’s wrist shot from the point with 8:20 left.
Marchessault and Neal added empty-net goals in the final 2:10.
“Our third period was probably, obviously, the most disappointing period for me in a long time, maybe the season,” Florida coach Bob Boughner said. “I thought that was uncharacteristic of our team. We’re usually a team that battles to the end and plays hard, win or lose. And it didn’t seem that we had a lot of juice and we didn’t win a lot of battles in the third.”
Vrbata opened the scoring with a power-play goal, as he took pass from Denis Malgin at the faceoff dot and blasted a one-timer past Subban just 2:58 into the game.
Matheson made it 2-0 at 5:13 as he glided past the blue line to receive a pass from Evgenii Dadonov and slapped the puck past Subban.
But just as the Knights have done in their building repeatedly in their inaugural season, they rallied quickly.
Schmidt initiated a fantastic give-and-go on the defensive end by sending a pass to William Karlsson, who pushed the puck ahead to Reilly Smith, who then fed Schmidt to the left of Reimer and he finished the play with a one-time wrist shot to cut Florida’s lead in half at 6:39.
Miller tied it with 2:40 left in the opening period, firing a top-shelf slap shot over Reimer’s glove.