Golden Knights, Sharks ready to renew emotional rivalry

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Wednesday’s matchup between the Vegas Golden Knights and San Jose Sharks. Coverage begins at 10:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Game 7 was a new day for the Vegas Golden Knights. Having blown a 3-1 lead in their Round 1 series against the San Jose Sharks, the do-or-die battle inside SAP Center was an opportunity for a clean slate.

One game. One winner would advance.

Little did anyone know that the final game of that series would end as one of the more memorable back-and-forth evenings in recent history. There was controversy, an injury, an emotional comeback, and finally, a series-winning overtime goal.

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The Golden Knights were playing a perfect road in Jonathan Marchessault’s eyes. The San Jose crowd was quiet having watched their team go down 3-0 nearly four minutes into the third period. Vegas was all over the Sharks, dominating every facet of the game and controlling play.

Five and a half minutes after Max Pacioretty appeared to have put the dagger in the Sharks’ heart, that play happened. You know the one — the push by Cody Eakin off the faceoff that led to Joe Pavelski awkwardly falling backward and hitting his head on the ice. As the blood leaked from the captain’s helmet, the officials gave Eakin a major penalty for cross-checking and a game misconduct.

“I know with [our] team, any given night we’re going to win it,” Marchessault told NBC Sports. “Obviously, the wrong call happened. I pretty much blinked and they were up 4-3.”

The Sharks’ goal-scoring barrage did seem to happen in a blink. Seven seconds after the penalty was called Logan Couture cut the lead to 3-1. Forty-nine second later, it was 3-2, thanks to Tomas Hertl. Couture tied the game with his second of the night 2:44 after that.

The San Jose bench, already galvanized to win it for their injured captain, was a mix of disbelief and utter joy. A game and a season that seemed lost just 10 minutes earlier was given new life. Hertl said the atmosphere in the arena rivaled that of the noise levels hit during the 2016 Stanley Cup Final.

“Everybody put everything [into the game],” said Hertl. “We lost to them the year before and we didn’t want to lose to Vegas again. It was an effort from every single guy.”

[PHT PREDICTIONS: EAST / WEST / STANLEY CUP]

Marchessault couldn’t believe it. The goals were coming from everywhere. The Golden Knights, still shorthanded, just didn’t know what to do.

As the Sharks and their fans were still celebrating the game-tying goal, they have reason to remain out of their seats a short while later. Kevin Labanc picked up the puck at the right point and drove toward the Vegas net with a surprisingly amount of time and space and fired the go-ahead goal past Marc-Andre Fleury.

Because this Game 7 was entirely bat—- crazy, there were still twists left to come. Marchessault would force overtime with 47 remaining and the Golden Knights’ net empty. Vegas was still fuming about the call on Eakin, but they took the overtime intermission to reset their emotions and focus on the task at hand: one more goal.

It took nearly all of the first overtime to get a winner, and it came off the stick of Barclay Goodrow at 18:19.

“It’s just still one of the craziest games we ever will play,” said Hertl.

“It was unfortunate,” said Marchessault, who unleashed his anger about the Eakin call afterward. “You’ve got to give them credit. They were down 3-1 in the series, they came back in Game 7 down 3-0, went to overtime and they still won it. … It was a good moment for their team and a good learning [experience] for our team as well.”

Game 7 exploded the rivalry between the two teams, especially the feud between Evander Kane and Ryan Reaves. Their first regular season meeting since that emotional April evening comes Wednesday (10:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN; live stream) on opening night as part of 2019 NHL Face-off. They won’t miss one another for long as they play again Friday night in San Jose.

“We’re excited. Obviously we have a great rivalry with them,” said Marchessault. “They’re a good team and I think we’re a good team as well. It’s going to go for a couple of years and it’s going to be a good rivalry.”

“It’s almost as big of a rivalry than LA right now,” said Hertl. “I love these games. Not just the playing, but the fans from both sides. They enjoy the games and the rivalry is just building up. I love these games because it seems like playoff rivalry from the first game of the season.”

The Golden Knights can do one of two things with that Game 7 memory: either move on from it or store it upstairs as a reminder. Marchessault said what happened has stayed with him throughout the offseason.

“Always does. Extra motivation, personally,” he said. “I like to remind myself what happened so when it comes around next time in playoffs we don’t take it for granted, you’ve got to battle through adversity. That’s what they did and they won.”

Marchessault was happy to see officials get some help over the summer when the league expanded video review and will allow for major penalties to be reviewed. In the case of Eakin, the call would have been reduced to a two-minute minor. The new rules state a major cannot be rescinded.

As the memories of that third period stay with the Golden Knights they understand they can’t change what happened. The focus is on this season and continuing their trend upward.

“We’re here to win a hockey game, that’s it,” Marchessault said. “We cannot get our emotions too high. They have a good team. We have a good team. We’ll be, I think, in the top teams in the West again. I just wait to get out there and win a hockey game.”

Brendan Burke and Pierre McGuire will have the call of Sharks-Golden Knights from T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nev.

MORE:
2019-20 NHL Power Rankings
PHT’s 2019-20 season previews
• 2019 NHL free agency tracker
NHL on NBC television schedule

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.