Defenseman Ben Hutton smiled wide when he saw the cheers and even raised his gloves in excitement.
The Golden Knights players expected a low-key optional practice Saturday one day after their 4-3 overtime win to start the Western Conference Final against the Dallas Stars at T-Mobile Arena.
Their fans made sure that didn’t happen.
City National Arena was packed despite only eight players — and three that played Friday night — taking the ice. The glass was decorated with signs of support from local schools, with banners carrying messages such as “It’s Knight Time,” “Go Knights Go,” and “Good luck Golden Knights.”
There was even a pizza party hosted by mascot Chance outside with a food truck, music and an inflatable ball hockey rink.
“A little bit of a surprise, but that just goes to show how far the team’s come here,” center Teddy Blueger said. “It’s great when you have that kind of support.”
The immense crowd for practice brought back memories of the Knights’ inaugural season, when every skate seemed to be filled to the brim during their run to the Stanley Cup Final.
This season’s group is inching closer and closer to the same accomplishment with the fans again playing a huge role. The Knights are 5-2 at home in the playoffs, with the atmosphere at T-Mobile Arena providing a huge boost.
They got another jolt of energy Saturday.
“We just played last night,” center Nicolas Roy said. “You’re coming pretty much out of bed, you’re a little more tired, and then you see that, you see how much support you’ve got, obviously, you’re getting more excited for practice.”
Roy’s wing play
One adjustment the Knights made in the second round against the Edmonton Oilers was moving Roy from fourth-line center to second-line right wing with center William Karlsson and left wing Reilly Smith.
It’s a switch that seems to be working. Roy is using his 6-foot-4-inch frame along the walls in the offensive zone to create turnovers and maintain puck possession for the Knights. He has two assists in his past two games. The Knights have a 10-4 edge in high-danger scoring chances when he, Karlsson and Smith are on the ice together at five-on-five, according to the website Natural Stat Trick.
“It’s been really nice being able to play with him,” Smith said. “He definitely helps our line in front of the net, puck pursuit. He’s definitely elevated his game.”
Roy’s replacement at fourth-line center, Blueger, scored in the third period Friday.
Left wing Brett Howden’s goal 1:35 into overtime Friday was the third-fastest in Knights playoff history.
Right wing Alex Tuch scored in 16 seconds in a round-robin game against Colorado in the 2020 bubble playoffs. Captain Mark Stone ended Game 5 of the Knights’ second-round series with the Avalanche in 50 seconds in 2021.
The team was happy Howden pulled off something similar. No one wanted a repeat of Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final between Florida and Carolina on Thursday, which didn’t end until Panthers right wing Matthew Tkachuk scored at 19:47 of the fourth overtime.
“I don’t think too many guys were saying it, but I think they were thinking it,” Howden said. “Obviously, it’s nice to end it a lot earlier than that other game the other night.”