Max Pacioretty returns just in time for Golden Knights
Twenty-seven days later, Max Pacioretty slipped into a prominent scoring area and fired one of those unique powerful rockets. Of course, it was different being a game decision.
The storyline of a Game 7 in sports is simply written differently, a win-win moment in a playoff series that almost always produces some level of the unexpected.
This is one of the main reasons the Golden Knights stay alive in the playoffs.
Pacioretty and his Willis Reed moment.
The Knights beat the Minnesota Wild 6-2 Friday night in front of 12,156 Crazy Souls at T-Mobile Arena, winning the best of seven series 4-3 and advancing to face the Colorado Avalanche in the second round.
Pacioretty returned to the roster in time to score what turned out to be the game-winning goal in the biggest game of the season to date. He finished what was even a better assist from Chandler Stephenson at 7:44 of the second period to make it 3-2 Knights.
Cam Talbot, who was formidable in the Wild All series goal, didn’t have a chance to stop the close-up blast. It is often impossible to defend storybook stuff. The hockey gods need a good yarn to spin from time to time.
I imagined early Friday that William Karlsson would have been given a minor boarding penalty because, well, chances are he has no idea.
Karlsson really got someone on board?
“It was important for me not to get too emotional,” Pacioretty said. “It’s definitely a lot more scary when you’re sitting up there in the press box with no control. I much prefer to be on the ice.
“There have been good days and bad days. A lot of people behind the scenes have helped me get to where I am right now. It was one of the main reasons I was able to play.
Presence may simply be the state of existing, but it has the power to inspire others. Pacioretty taking the ice has undoubtedly brought an extra level of juice for his teammates.
There is no small advantage in the game 7.
“It gives them a different dynamic,” said Wild forward Zach Parise. “For him, the fact of directly intervening, contributing and delivering was a great addition for them.
It’s been almost a month since the Knights honored that weird NHL secret code regarding Pacioretty and what exactly was keeping the team’s top scorer in check. Days turned into weeks. You had a better idea of where Waldo was than Pacioretty.
He had been sidelined since May 1, but played a plus-2 in 16:28 of ice time on Friday, joining Stephenson and Mark Stone on the front row.
“Having (Pacioretty) was a huge lift,” Knights coach Pete DeBoer said. “Just having your name written on the board in the lineup gave our group a boost. Playing the first six games of the series without him was a hill our group had to climb. It was essential to get it back tonight. It changed everything.
Pacioretty was 18 after his birth when Reed in 1970 – playing mostly on one leg – led the New York Knicks to their first NBA Championship in Game 7 against the Los Angeles Lakers.
So, any time since an injured athlete returns for such a crucial game and helps lead a team to victory, those memories come back to life.
Next step: better team
Now, however, Pacioretty can settle back into a more normal existence to be the Knights’ most dangerous scoring threat. They will need a lot of it in the future.
The Knight and the Avalanche open their second-round series Sunday in Denver, with DeBoer’s team in need of all the latest bodies against the speed and skill they’re about to encounter.
“The best team in the league with arguably the best player in the league,” Pacioretty said of the Avalanche and center star Nathan MacKinnon. “We knew that to get to where we wanted to go, we had to go through them.”
He will be part of such a challenge now. Back just in time.
On your marks, get set… It should be a great choice.
Ed Graney is the recipient of the Sigma Delta Chi Award for Sports Writing and can be reached at [email protected] or 702-383-4618. It can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, 7 am to 10 am, Monday through Friday. To pursue @edgraney on Twitter.