The Associated PressDALLAS (AP) — James Neal simply wanted to give the people of Las Vegas a reason to smile.
Chances are he did.
Neal scored twice in the third period, rallying the Golden Knights to a 2-1 victory over the Dallas Stars on Friday night in the debut of the first major pro sports franchise in Las Vegas.
The expansion team was playing five days after the shooting that killed 58 people in Las Vegas, and the Dallas players honored the desert city by forming a line alongside their Vegas counterparts before the national anthem.
With the video board reading “Viva Las Vegas” above the players, the public address announcer said “Dallas stands with Vegas and those affected by the horrifying tragedy.”
“Being a new team, we have a lot of new fans and a lot of people affected by what happened,” Neal said. “Hopefully they tuned in tonight and we could put a smile on their face, because like you said we’re playing for our city and it’s going to be a lot of fun this year.”
Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 45 of 46 shots to help the Golden Knights become the first expansion team to open with a victory since the Ottawa Senators topped Montreal 5-3 on Oct. 8, 1992. Vegas is the first NHL expansion team since the Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets in 2000.
“We can’t undo what happened, and we’ll do our best, we’ll work as hard as we can to make the city proud of us,” said Fleury, a three-time Stanley Cup winner in Pittsburgh who lost his job during the playoffs last season and was left unprotected for the expansion draft.
The Golden Knights also spoiled coach Ken Hitchcock’s return to Dallas 18 years after he directed the franchise’s only Stanley Cup title. He was fired during the 2001-02 season, the only one in a span of 11 that the Stars missed the playoffs.