By Judy Owen, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG – Gerard Gallant downplayed the achievement his upstart Vegas Golden Knights reached with a 3-2 overtime victory over the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday.
It was the Golden Knights’ 34th win, passing both the 1993-94 Florida Panthers and then-Anaheim Mighty Ducks for most wins in an NHL season by a first-year expansion team.
“It doesn’t mean a whole lot right now to be honest with you,” said Gallant, who’s coached his club to a Western Conference-leading 34-12-4 record, one point back of league-best Tampa Bay.
“We’re just trying to battle and get two points again every night and that’s what we’re trying to do. But you know, at the end of the season we’ll look at it and be happy I’m sure.”
David Perron scored 3:57 into overtime after Winnipeg winger Kyle Connor had tied the game with a high shot to Marc-Andre Fleury’s glove side with 2:36 left in the third period.
The Jets had the puck rolling in the crease three times in overtime, but Winnipeg couldn’t get it over the line. Perron then fired a high shot past goalie Connor Hellebuyck to win the game.
“That’s (Fleury) for you right there. He loves those kinds of moments,” Perron said of the overtime scramble. “I don’t know how the puck stayed out, but he found a way to keep it out.”
Fleury stopped 26 shots. It was his 389th career win, putting him into a tie for 13th among NHL goaltenders.
Joel Armia had a goal and one assist for Winnipeg.
Hellebuyck made 28 saves for the Jets (30-13-9), who were trying to set a franchise-record eighth straight home win.
Reilly Smith had a short-handed goal and Erik Haula scored a controversial 2-1 go-ahead goal on the power play for Vegas with 1:30 left in the second period.
Golden Knights forward James Neal was in front of Winnipeg’s net and broke his stick with a swing to Hellebuyck’s mask. The puck was under the goalie and Haula reached in with his stick from the other side of the crease and knocked it in.
Winnipeg coach Paul Maurice challenged for goaltender interference, but a review upheld the goal and the NHL situation room released an explanation stating no infraction had occurred.
“What (the official) said is the puck wasn’t covered, it was laying in the crease, so the guy was allowed to take a two-hand smack to my face,” Hellebuyck said. “I don’t understand it. I think it’s a terrible call. You would think the video replay is there for that reason.”
It had Jets captain Blake Wheeler frustrated, too.
“The explanation was that the puck was behind the goalie, which gives their player the right to break his stick over (Hellebuyck’s) head,” Wheeler said. “There’s been an outcry with the league to get this right. We were told before the game that it was going to be a little bit cleaner, they were going to be looking for goalie interference. It’s the first time I’ve seen a guy break a stick over a goalie’s head.”
Maurice also questioned the explanation.
“I don’t know how there would be an event that would be more egregious with goaltender interference, just beyond the spirit of the rule,” Maurice said. “The idea that a guy could clean a goalie out would be goalie interference, but a two-hand to the head wouldn’t. What are we going to do with our goalies now? The puck’s loose in the crease, so swing away?”
Winnipeg led 1-0 after the first period, thanks to a gaffe by Fleury.
The veteran goalie went behind the net to get the puck, but Jets forward Matt Hendricks stole it and passed it out to Armia, who was in front of the empty net to score his 10th of the season.
Smith’s tying goal came after he stole the puck from Wheeler inside Winnipeg’s blue line and beat Hellebuyck with a high shot on the breakaway at 12:10.
Haula’s goal extended his point streak to seven games, with four goals and five assists. Perron also had an assist, which gave him a seven-game point roll with four goals and six helpers.
The Jets continue their 10-game homestand with the third game Saturday against Colorado. The Golden Knights play their third game of a six-game road trip Friday in Minnesota.