The music kept blaring, the fans kept dancing and the white towels kept waving.
This was a party every step of the way for the Vegas Golden Knights, who kept coming at the Kings, flank after flank, at highly charged T-Mobile Arena for Game 1 of a historic opening-round playoff series Wednesday.
And even then, they got one goal, which stood up for a 1-0 win in what should be a terrific series. The Kings survived a tenacious Vegas attack with Jonathan Quick and threw on a late charge that couldn’t equalize Shea Theodore’s first-period score.
“A 1-0 game may be a little bit tougher to swallow than anything else,” Kings center Anze Kopitar said. “But I thought we played a solid game. We definitely had chances. I had two really good [chances] myself. I’ve just got to cash in on them. We know we can play better and we’re going to have to play better in Game 2 if we want to go home with a split.”
The Kings’ ears might still be ringing from the noise of a Vegas-record 18,479 fans packed into the arena. Every inch of ice was contested and the teams combined for 127 hits. Animosity between Drew Doughty and William Carrier reached a crescendo with Doughty’s hit that sent Carrier to the dressing room in the third period.
Quick’s matchup against Marc-Andre Fleury saw Quick make 27 saves to Fleury’s 30. Kings coach John Stevens wants his team to improve on the quality of that 30.
“I thought we created some opportunities to get some offense but I think we’ve got to make it tougher on [Fleury] to see the puck,” Stevens said. “Once you get in a series, you’ve got to find ways to improve here. Both teams played hard tonight, but I’d like to see us improve in certain areas, but we’re going to have to play harder to get more pucks to the net.”
Theodore made sure their inauguration got started right with the game’s first goal. His wrist shot from up top deflected off at least one Kings player three minutes, 22 seconds into the first period to set off the arena.
It wasn’t the ideal start for the Kings, notorious slow starters against a Vegas team that is 35-5-2 when scoring first.
The Kings came out reorganized to start the second period and nearly tied it on Dustin Brown’s hard-angled shot that missed a vacated net, created when Doughty’s rebound bounced wide left off the boards. That turned out to be big for the rest of the game as Vegas took back control and was helped by offensive zone penalties by Brown and Trevor Lewis.
The Golden Knights couldn’t break through against the NHL’s top-ranked penalty kill, but the momentum still aided Vegas. It came out strong for the third period, and the Kings leaned hard on Quick to keep it a one-goal game.
“Quick played unbelievable for us,” Kings’ Tobias Rieder said. “There wasn’t a lot there. It was a tight game. One shot wins the game.”
Injured defenseman Jake Muzzin missed the game and his absence meant that defensemen Oscar Fantenberg and Paul LaDue were one of five Kings in their NHL playoff debut.
“First playoff game, I felt pretty good out there, but the pace was definitely up, and I think there’s a lot to learn from tonight, and I think we’re going to come out and we’re going to come out hard on Friday,” said LaDue.