Fourth-line heroes come up big for Golden Knights in Game 1

Tomas Nosek scored the winner as the Vegas Golden Knights outlasted the Washington Capitals 6-4 in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.

LAS VEGAS – Microphone in hand, Ryan Reaves walked from podium to podium on Media Day of the Stanley Cup Final and asked his own Golden Knights teammates pressing questions like, “Alex Tuch, how many Vegas bottle service girls do you know?” (“None,” Tuch replied, for those scoring at home.)

Confident and charismatic, equally quick with his fist and his wits, Reaves cracked that he was getting a jump on a broadcasting career.

“Hey, I don’t have a contract for next year,” said Reaves, an impending UFA.

Well, the way Reaves — and fellow fourth-liners Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Tomas Nosek — has performed in the biggest games of his NHL life, his CV will be nicely updated on July 1.

The bottom forward unit was responsible for the Knights’ wild 6-4 Game 1 victory over the Washington Capitals, scoring thrice in a storm-from-behind third period and bailing out Marc-Andre Fleury after he kicked one into his own net.

Reaves, who’s already added the Western Conference final-clinching goal to his resume, roofed the tying goal after cross-checking defender John Carlson in the back.

“That’s one of the biggest things about this team. When something goes wrong, we bounce back quickly. I don’t know how many times in the playoffs the other team has scored and the next shift or two, we go out and score,” said Reaves, who figures his last two-game goal streak was back in 2015.

“I was saving them. I don’t know if you guys knew, but I told everybody I was going to save them for the playoffs.”

Nosek — whom you may know from such Google searches as “Who is Tomas Nosek?” — banged home the winner from the crease off a perfect point pass from defenceman Shea Theodore, then added an empty-netter to seal it.

“We’re not the line you’re going to expect the goals [from] every night, but we’ve been trying to create momentum and work, and that’s what we’ve been saying all year long. Build, build, build. Create momentum for your team. And one time, maybe it won’t happen every game, but it’s fun to be able to help offensively,” said Bellemare, wearing a T-shirt that screamed “CREATE HISTORY” in all caps.

“It’s not really magical play we’re doing. It’s nothing like a crazy recipe. We’re just trying to outwork who we’re playing against, and tonight we got rewarded.”

Fleury praised the work ethic of three guys who helped push the likes of $5.3-million man Tomas Tatar into healthy-scratch territory. Jonathan Marchessault said the only reasons Vegas is here, three wins from the impossible, are Fleury and its depth.

“No one in this locker room is shocked by the big games out of Nosek, Bellemare and Reaves,” Reilly Smith said. “That’s the biggest strength of our team, rolling all four lines.”

While mediocre clubs shelter or bench their fourth unit in the waning moments of a tied game, Vegas coach Gerard Gallant just opens the door for the next men up to punch the clock and dig.

“Swarming the puck. Five guys in the picture all the time,” Reaves said. “That’s just Vegas hockey.”

Bellemare (75%), Nosek (73.3%) and Reaves (68%) led all players in Corsi and combined for a plus-8 rating. No other Knights forward was a plus.

“They played unbelievable,” Nate Schmidt said. “They were the difference in the game tonight. I think they were the ones that separated themselves in the way that they played. It’s always great to see those guys [show up]. To be able to produce and be a part of such a tight game, especially when it came down to the end there.”

Centre Bellemare is the only one of the three with a contract for next season. He loves playing with Nosek, whom he says is stealthily strong on the puck and always goes to the net. Reaves, who’s on his third team in the past 11 months, had no trouble fitting in, Smith says, because he’s “a misfit” like the rest of ’em.

A trade deadline acquisition from Pittsburgh, Reaves was a physical beast in this one, and his thoughts on Tom Wilson’s shady hit on Marchessault (“It’s late. It’s just Wilson doing what Wilson does,” Reaves said) suggest his own nasty edge will be of value as this series goes on.

Ironically, Reaves surely would’ve clashed with Wilson in Round 2 had the Penguins not traded him away.

Reaves knows his role: a proud, fourth-line impact player who has no interest in a promotion to the top line.

“Absolutely not. That’s too much responsibility for me,” Reaves said.

“I like where I am. I like my linemates. I’m not a first-liner. I’ve always been a goal scorer, just on the fourth line.”

Not really magical, they say. But damn if it’s not starting to feel that way in Vegas.

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