NHL: Vegas wins inspired home debut

Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Deryk Engelland speaks during a ceremony to honor the first responders of the shooting in Las Vegas before an NHL hockey game on Tuesday in Las Vegas. (AP Photo)
The Associated Press

LAS VEGAS — One by one under the spotlights, the Vegas Golden Knights skated up to take their place behind a first responder to the shooting massacre.

The arena then illuminated the victims’ names in gold on the ice during 58 seconds of silence.

Hockey seemed distant and unimportant to the players on the NHL’s newest team in recent days, but the Golden Knights knew they had to play Tuesday night — for their city, for their fans and for the fallen.

And their debut on the Strip was a poignant smash.

James Neal scored twice during a thrilling four-goal first period, and the Golden Knights remained unbeaten three games into their inaugural season with a 5-2 victory over the Arizona Coyotes in their home opener.

“There was so much emotion, but we tried to stay focused on hockey, even though it was bigger than hockey,” Neal said. “This is our town.”

Tomas Nosek scored the first home goal in franchise history just 2:31 into the first period. Deryk Engelland added his first goal for his adopted hometown’s new team moments later in a stirring performance by the player selected by his teammates to give a pregame speech to the crowd.

“It was probably one of the more emotional moments of my life,” Engelland said. “I probably don’t plan on scoring in too many games, but to get that one was pretty special.”

Marc-Andre Fleury made 31 saves for the Golden Knights, who became the first team in NHL history to begin their debut season with three straight wins.

Just nine days after the massacre occurred less than a mile from T-Mobile Arena, the Golden Knights reverently honored the victims and heroes before the long-awaited home debut of the city’s first major professional sports franchise.

The Knights held a pregame ceremony during which the names of the shooting victims were projected in gold onto the ice during 58 seconds of silence. Engelland spoke eloquently to the fans, vowing that the Golden Knights “will do everything we can to help you and our city heal. We are Vegas Strong.”

After that emotional outpouring, the Golden Knights charged into their home opener with some inspired hockey.

“We talked about tonight being the most important game we’ll ever play,” Vegas coach Gerard Gallant said. “A lot of guys, we’re playing for our city. We’re playing for the tragedy that happened, for all the people that were here tonight and affected by the tragedy. I thought our guys did a hell of a job. They came out and they focused on the game. They focused from the start.”

The Golden Knights’ home opener was a bit more somber than the franchise originally planned, although the crowd was still whipped into a frenzy by the team’s excellent play. T-Mobile Arena had no ads on the boards around the ice for the opener. Instead, the all-white boards simply displayed the same message: “Vegas Strong.”