WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - Left surprisingly available in the National Hockey League’s (NHL) expansion draft last year, forward Jonathan Marchessault joined his new team, the Vegas Golden Knights, with plenty to prove.
By January, the French-Canadian with slick hands had earned a six-year, $30-million contract extension.
Marchessault, 27, finished the season with 27 goals and 75 points. On Monday, he fired two goals in a 3-1 Vegas win over the Winnipeg Jets in the Manitoba capital. The NHL Western Conference Final is tied 1-1.
“That’s the story of our club,” Marchessault said after the game. “Everybody just seized their opportunity here. We’re just a bunch of hockey players that wanted to find a home.
“And we did.”
Marchessault now has six goals and 15 points in the playoffs to lead his team.
While Marchessault and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury were the stars on Monday for Vegas, the Golden Knights’ success was rooted in a relentless forecheck in the late first and third periods that caused the Jets to turn over the puck.
It was the across-the-board feistier effort by Vegas that Marchessault, who stands just 5’9, called for after losing the series opener on Saturday 4-2.
“‘March’ was real good tonight, he scored two big goals, but I thought all our team did their jobs tonight,” said Vegas Coach Gerard Gallant.
Marchessault was a surprise to be available in an expansion draft of players to stock Vegas in its inaugural season. He scored 30 goals last season with his old team, the Florida Panthers, by far a career best.
The Golden Knights became the first team to make the NHL playoffs in their first season, but have also won two rounds, over Los Angeles and San Jose.
“Every time we need a big game, we show up. Tonight we showed up,” Marchessault said. “I think we showed the hockey world that we earned the right to be here.”
Game 3 against Winnipeg moves to Las Vegas on Wednesday. The winner of the best-of-seven series plays the winner of the series between the Washington Capitals and Tampa Bay Lightning. Washington leads that series 2-0.
Reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg, Manitoba; Editing by Peter Rutherford