Martinez has storybook debut

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Las Vegas may not be Hollywood but that doesn’t mean there can’t be a storybook plot at a hockey game.

Alec Martinez, who was brought to town by the Golden Knights to play defense, showed off his offensive skills by scoring a first-period goal and adding a second-period assist in helping the Knights end the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 11-game win streak with a 5-3 victory Thursday at T-Mobile Arena.

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While the Bolts’ streak was short-circuited, the Knights’ won their fourth straight, all over quality opponents (St. Louis, NY Islanders, Washington and Tampa Bay) and continued to keep pace in the competitive Pacific Division. They moved back into first place with 72 points, a point ahead of Edmonton and two in front of Vancouver. Both the Oilers and Canucks have two games in hand on Vegas, which will wrap up its five-game homestead Saturday against the Florida Panthers.

“We knew this was going to be a tough game,” Knights coach Peter DeBoer said. “We got some big saves and we got some momentum halfway through the first period. 

“I thought Alec was tremendous. He’s everything he’s advertised to be. I thought he was very good in the defensive end and obviously to get a goal and an assist was nice to see.”

The 32-year-old Martinez had been acquired from the Los Angeles Kings for a pair of second-round draft picks on Wednesday, had an impressive debut for his new team. Not only did he score for what was his second goal of the year, he also appeared comfortable in his own end, teaming with Jon Merrill and getting to play with Marc-Andre Fleury instead of against him for the first time in his 11-year NHL career. 

“It felt good to come in and be able to contribute right away,” Martinez said. “Having played against the guys the last couple of years, I know how talented they are and to now be on the same side, playing with Flower and the rest of them, I’m very excited to be here and be part of this.”

Ironically, his other goal this season also came at T-Mobile back on Jan. 9 when he was a member of the Kings. He admitted to being a bit nervous, which is understandable. But the goal, which came after he read the play and was in the right spot to take the rebound of Cody Eakin’s blast from the blue line and put it past Andrei Vasilevskiy tied it 1-1 with 1:55 left in the first period. 

Vegas went up 2-1 on a pretty setup 6:45 into the second period as Nate Schmidt fed Reilly Smith with Paul Stastny tipping in Smith’s pass for his 17th of the season.

Martinez also had a hand in the Knights’ go-ahead goal late in the second after Steven Stamkos’ first of two power-play goals had tied it 2-2 (He would score again with two minutes remaining in the match). Martinez found Max Pacioretty open on the right side and Pacioretty quickly turned it into a 2-on-1 with Mark Stone. A perfect pass to Stone resulted in a nifty backhand move and finish past Vasilevskiy and a 3-2 Vegas lead going into the final 20 minutes. It was Stone’s 21st of the year.

That 3-2 lead quickly mushroomed to 5-2 as Vegas scored twice in the first 47 seconds of the third period. First, it was Ryan Reaves stealing the puck from Braydon Coburn and with Coburn draped all over him, he managed to get off a shot from the slot and beat Vasilevskiy just 10 seconds into the period. Thirty seconds later, Coburn was whistled for holding and seven seconds after that, Pacioretty scored from the top of the right circle for a power-play goal and a 5-2 lead. It was his team-high 28th of the year.

“That goal by Reaver was huge,” Stone said of Reaves’ seventh of the season. “It definitely changed the momentum and gave us some breathing room.”

Any chance the Lightning may have had of staying in it and possibly rallying for a win likely died in that opening minute of the final period. And with Fleury on his game, the likelihood of a comeback was slim. He would finish with 24 saves and had several spectacular stops though Stamkos got him again on the late power play. He appears to have regained his confidence and his rhythm after struggling earlier this season following the death of his father in late November.

“I think it’s the guys are playing well in front of me and allowing me to see the puck,” Fleury said. “I thought (Martinez) was very good. It’s never easy when you come to a new team and you have to play a new system with new players. But he’s been around and he is going to help us.”

About the Author

Steve Carp

Steve Carp is a six-time Nevada Sportswriter of the Year. A 30-year veteran of the Las Vegas sports journalism scene, he covered the Vegas Golden Knights for the Las Vegas Review-Journal from 2015-2018.

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