LAS VEGAS – The Wild was the last team to venture to Vegas during the Golden Knights’ inaugural season, and the trip was worth the wait – especially for local boy Jason Zucker.
In front of family, friends and a hearty contingent of Wild fans, Zucker scored and added an assist in an impressive 4-2 win Friday in front of 18,295 at T-Mobile Arena that clinched a three-game season sweep over the Golden Knights.
“I can’t even say it was a dream come true because I never thought it would happen,” Zucker said. “It’s really cool to do it and on top of that to have my family and friends here, my wife and kids, it doesn’t get any better than that.”
No team in the NHL has had that much success against Vegas during its magical debut as the most prolific expansion team in league history, a wrap sheet that suggests a favorable first-round matchup for the Wild if the standings aligned that way.
Upending the Golden Knights at home has also been a challenge for visitors, with this just the team’s ninth regulation loss on its own ice.
And based on the vibe that swirls over the action, it’s easy to understand why.
Nestled next to New York-New York Hotel & Casino, T-Mobile Arena offers an experience fitting for the Las Vegas Strip. A Knight graces the ice before puck drop, there’s a drumline in the upper deck and the video board constantly beckons for noise – in gaudy letters that probably only work here.
“It was like a rock concert,” coach Bruce Boudreau said.
That noise is at its loudest in the opening minutes, as a boisterous crowd with mixed allegiances fights for control of the microphone on this night.
It made it feel like the Wild was in its own Vegas show, trying to weather the hype as if it were canvassing a tightrope.
But not only did the Wild survive that early emotion, it seemed galvanized by it.
At least it looked like Zucker was.
He opened the scoring just 7 minutes, 19 seconds into the first period when he one-timed the puck by goalie Marc-Andre Fleury before celebrating by jumping into the boards in the corner.
The only Nevada-raised player to make it to the NHL, Zucker acknowledged ahead of time the significance of this game and he made it even more meaningful by collecting his 29th goal – again bumping up his new career high.
“I think everyone had a pretty big smile on their face just knowing what it meant to him and for us to jump out with a 1-0 lead,” winger Charlie Coyle said. “You could tell the eruption in the arena, and I’m sure his family is pretty happy to see that.”
That goal energized the Wild even more, but the team was at its best in the second.
Just 5:53 into the period, Coyle put the Wild up by two when he backhanded the puck over Fleury as he crashed the net, tumbling to the ice after he scored to extend his point streak to five games.
Soon after, at 7:36, the Wild capitalized again. This time, Zucker was the architect – sending the puck to the front of the net for defenseman Matt Dumba to direct it in for his 11th goal, which ties his career high.
Former Wild center Erik Haula spoiled backup Alex Stalock’s shutout bid with 6:32 to go in the third before winger Ryan Carpenter poked in a bouncing puck with Fleury pulled for an extra attacker at 19:04.
Winger Zach Parise added an empty-netter with 34 seconds left. Each goalie had 26 saves, and both teams blanked on three power plays
Although the Golden Knights made the game look close in the third, the Wild was mostly in control amid a tireless work ethic that reinstated its lead for the third seed in the Central Division to three points over the Avalanche and Stars.
“We were ready,” Boudreau said. “I don’t think it hurt that our crowd from Minnesota was absolutely fabulous. It made this one loud building and if you can’t play in this atmosphere with that going on, then I think we’re in trouble.”