Mattias Janmark had scored just one goal since being acquired by Vegas at the trade deadline from Chicago.
He tripled that Friday night with his first career hat trick in what might have been the most important home playoff game in the Golden Knights’ four-year history, a 6-2 victory over the Minnesota Wild in Game 7 of their opening-round series.
“It’s what every player dreams of, to score in a Game 7,” Janmark said. “To win a Game 7 and to score a hat trick, it’s hard to believe that it’s going to happen to you, but today, bounces were going in.
“It’s a dream come true, for sure.”
Nic Hague, Max Pacioretty and Zach Whitecloud also scored for Vegas, which hosted a Game 7 for the first time after losing in San Jose in 2018 and defeating Vancouver in Edmonton last year. It was also the first time Vegas clinched a playoff series at home.
Marc-Andre Fleury, playing in his eighth career Game 7, made 19 saves to earn his 85th playoff victory in front of an announced crowd of 12,156. Fleury is three playoff wins shy of tying Billy Smith and Ed Belfour for fourth in NHL history.
“It was a ton of fun,” said Hague, the only Golden Knights skater in the lineup who hadn’t played in a Game 7. “The building was rocking, which is always awesome. But it was on another level tonight. A little nervous at the start. Boy, was that a fun game.”
Vegas, which squandered a 3-1 series lead for the third straight season, heads to Denver for Sunday’s second-round opener against the Colorado Avalanche. The Avalanche won the regular-season series, 4-3-1.
Peter DeBoer improved to 6-0 when coaching in Game 7s, while Minnesota dropped to 3-1 all-time in a seventh game. Home teams in Game 7s are 105-74, excluding last season’s playoff bubble in Canada.
Zach Parise and Kirill Kaprizov scored for the Wild. Cam Talbot made 29 saves.
“We hope that they’re proud of each other and proud of themselves of how they conducted themselves this year,” Minnesota coach Dean Evason said. “You get to a Game 7 and one team wins and one team loses. Our effort was there. We competed our butts off.”
Janmark opened the scoring when he fought the pressure to create his own rush, then went forehand-to-backhand and used a filthy deke before softly tapping the puck past Talbot’s right skate. Parise, who started the series scratched from the lineup, tied it at 1 when he sent Joel Eriksson Ek’s feed to the front of the crease between both his legs and Fleury’s.
Hague got his first goal since April 5 when he lasered a wrist shot from the blue line to give Vegas a 2-1 advantage. The Wild answered shortly thereafter, and moments after Ryan Reaves was called for cross-checking Ryan Suter, as Kaprizov’s snapper from the edge of the left circle beat Fleury to his glove side.
“We had a pretty good start and made it 2-2,” Wild forward Marcus Foligno said. “We liked our chances, but couldn’t get a lot generating after that.”
Unlike the Golden Knights, who again dominated the second period by generating scoring chances and capitalizing on ample opportunities. In the second periods of the series, Vegas outscored Minnesota 11-2 and outshot the Wild 96-51.
Pacioretty made his presence felt in his first game back from an undisclosed injury since the regular season, when he sneaked into the slot and one-timed Chandler Stephenson’s feed from the boards past the pads of Talbot to put Vegas back on top, 3-2, with what ended up being the winner.
“There was a lot to unpack with this series and playing the first six games without (Pacioretty), our leading goal scorer, was a hill our group had to climb,” DeBoer said. “It was critical that we got him back tonight. It changed, I thought, everything about our confidence, about our confidence to score.”
Later in the second, defenseman Shea Theodore unselfishly passed up an opportunity to fire one on net, dished to his right for Whitecloud, who found the far, top corner to extend Vegas’ lead to 4-2.
Theodore snapped a scoreless series drought with assists on Pacioretty and Whitecloud’s goals.
After playing aggressively through the first two periods, the Knights played low-risk hockey in the third while keeping the Wild at bay until Janmark scored his second after Nicolas Roy stripped Ryan Suter behind the net. Roy fed Janmark, who snapped the puck over Talbot’s far shoulder. Janmark’s empty-netter with a little more than three minutes left put the game out of reach.
“We knew it was going to be a really tough series,” DeBoer said. “I guess that’s what you get for tying for the most points in the league, is to get an opponent like that.”
Next stop: Denver, where the other team with the most points in the league awaits.