Neal, Fleury star as Knights beat Stars in inaugural game
DALLAS -- James Neal stole the show for the Vegas Golden Knights in their first regular-season game, scoring both goals in a surprising 2-1 win against the Dallas Stars on Friday at American Airlines Center.
Vegas became the first expansion team to win its first game since Ottawa and Tampa Bay in 1992.
“We just had to come together as a team really quick. We come out starting against a tough team,” Neal said. “To win the first game was awesome. The guys played really hard. We did everything we could to win the game and we did. It was awesome.”
Neal scored his first goal with 9:33 remaining in regulation, when he sent a wrist shot past Kari Lehtonen, who relieved Stars starting goaltender Ben Bishop after Bishop was injured early in the third period.
“He’s fine,” Stars coach Ken Hitchcock said of Bishop. “We were directed to keep him out. He’ll be fine (Saturday).”
Bishop went through and cleared NHL concussion protocol.
Neal, a former member of the Stars, netted the eventual game-winner with 2:44 remaining when from his knees, he roofed a wrist shot from the right circle into the top of the Dallas net to make it 2-1.
“I think it hit off my skate,” Neal said. “I just tried to do everything I could just to give myself a chance to get it on net. I saw that Kari (Lehtonen) was down, so I just tried to get it up. Honestly, it was just a great feeling. It was a lot of fun out there.”
However, Neal wasn’t the only star of the night for Vegas, as goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 45 of 46 shots to earn the victory.
“He was outstanding,” Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant said of Fleury. “He was obviously the first star of the game and he made some great saves for us in the hockey game, and he kept us in it.”
Tyler Seguin had the lone goal for Dallas.
Seguin redirected a slap pass from Devin Shore into the right side of the Vegas net for the game’s first goal with 2:59 remaining in the second period. With Dallas on the power play following a holding penalty on Colin Miller, Seguin put the Stars ahead 1-0 with his deflection.
“They had a lucky bounce on the one goal, and we had a breakdown on the other on,” Seguin said.
The Golden Knights nearly tied the game with 53 seconds remaining before the second intermission when it appeared Stars defenseman John Klingberg had knocked a shot from Brendan Leipsic into his own net. However, video review ruled that the referee had whistled the play dead prior to the puck crossing the line.
Leipsic’s initial wrist shot from the slot had gotten under Bishop, who fell backwards on the play.
Lehtonen left the ice with 1:00 remaining in regulation, but Dallas couldn’t find the equalizer with the extra attacker.
“We have to find a way as a group to not be distracted, and keep our foot on the pedal and keep our focus razor-sharp for 60 minutes,” Hitchcock said. “There’s a lot of things that go into not being distracted. We played extremely well for an extended period of time, but we got distracted.”
Dallas outshot Las Vegas 46-30 in the loss.
“We had all kinds of chances, and do everything but score,” Stars forward Alexander Radulov said. “Maybe something with trying too much. We’ve got to work harder. It’s a tough loss. We had a chance to bury them, and we kept them in the game. It just happened. (Saturday‘s) another big game. We’ve got to regroup and score more goals.”
Both teams return to the ice Saturday with Vegas playing at Arizona. Dallas plays at St. Louis.
NOTES: The Golden Knights scratched D Brad Hunt, D Jon Merrill and D Griffin Reinhart. ... The Stars scratched RW Adam Cracknell, D Julius Honka and D Greg Pateryn. ... Golden Knights C Cody Eakin, LW James Neal and RW Reilly Smith are all former Dallas Stars. ... Stars G Ben Bishop, who grew up in Frisco, Texas, where the Stars practice, made his Stars debut. ... Prior to puck drop, moments of silence were held to honor Promise Hamilton, a Stars employee who died over the summer, Dave Strader, a Dallas broadcaster who passed away Sunday, and to honor victims of the recent Las Vegas shooting. ... Current and former Stars owners in Dallas: Norm Green, Tom Hicks and Tom Gaglardi, performed the ceremonial puck drop.