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Reaves, Golden Knights won't let Wilson's hit distract them with 'bigger prize' on the line

Tom Wilson's hit on Jonathan Marchessault should have been a turning point for the Washington Capitals, but the Vegas Golden Knights and tough guy-turned-timely scorer Ryan Reaves are happy to use it as fuel going forward.

LAS VEGAS – It turns out Tom Wilson will not receive any supplemental discipline for his late, blindside hit on Jonathan Marchessault in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final, which is just fine with the Vegas Golden Knights. Because as it turns out, Wilson’s tactic completely backfired in that it provided the Golden Knights a rallying point to get back into the game and helped them on their way to victory.

And if Wilson wants to help their cause again in Game 2, they’ll take it. Remember, you’re dealing with the Golden Knights, who have made this entire season their own extended version of Opposite Day. A hit like that should have sparked the Capitals. The Golden Knights should have lost their minds and been chasing the Caps around, led by Ryan Reaves. Instead, Reaves scored to tie the game, aided by a blatant uncalled crosscheck in the ultimate display of karma.

“We live with the hit and the good thing about the hit was it really woke our team up,” said Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant. “We weren’t playing that great at the time and it was a 4-4 hockey game and for us it got our guys a little upset and we found a way to win a hockey game.”

That’s not to say Reaves, who turned his frustration into another enormous goal, was not tempted to exact some revenge on Wilson. After all, that’s pretty much in his DNA. But unlike Wilson, Reaves understands the gravity of the situation and how easy it is to put your team in a difficult spot. “It’s tough, but there’s a bigger prize here,” Reaves said. “Maybe during the regular season something might happen there, but we’re focused on winning the Stanley Cup, so it’s not the time to go out and put your team down.”

It’s been an interesting season for Reaves. If anyone had told him before the season started that he’d be playing in a Stanley Cup final, that would have seemed reasonable. After all, he was playing for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Acquired essentially because the Penguins were tired of watching their star players get abused, Reaves was dealt to Vegas at the deadline and the early returns were not good. Immediately after acquiring Reaves, the Golden Knights lost three straight games and Reaves took penalties in two of those games that led to goals against. Reaves felt so badly that he apologized to Gallant for his play.

“I ruined the whole team, yeah,” Reaves deadpanned. “I apologized to Vegas. What has kept me in this league is I don’t take stupid penalties that put our team down and those first two games, it put us down and we ended up losing a game. I don’t ever want to do that and especially on a new team, I don’t want that to be my first impression.”

It should come as zero surprise that Gallant was not concerned about the penalties and showed a lot of confidence in the player. In fact, he wasn’t a fan of a couple of the penalties that were called against Reaves anyway. “He came in and said to me, ‘Coach, I don’t take many penalties, that’s not the way I play.’ And I just said, ‘Listen, you play the game the way you play the game, don’t worry about that. That’s why we got you.’ That was two months and he’s been excellent ever since. And he doesn’t take penalties, he really doesn’t.”

Reaves is a little difficult to pigeonhole these days. When Penguins GM Jim Rutherford acquired him from the St. Louis Blues in the summer for a first-round pick, he knew he was getting an enforcer-type player. He justified the move by saying, “if you’re going to have a player like that, you might as well have the best one out there.” But it would probably be a stretch now to suggest that Reaves is an enforcer. He actually has never been a guy to have high numbers of fighting majors and has had only six in each of the past two seasons. The league leader this season, Michael Haley of the Florida Panthers, had 22. And Wilson, the player at the center of the controversy in Game 1, had 13.

Reaves once had 17 fights in a season in the American League, where there is far more fighting than there is in the NHL. The most he’s ever had in an NHL season is 13. And he’s become a more well rounded player, which is why he has been able to stay in the NHL while most players of his ilk have fallen by the wayside. So if you’re expecting Reaves to go out and fight Wilson in Game 2 tomorrow night to avenge the hit on Marchessault, you might be disappointed. And if he does, he won’t do it at a time that puts his team in a bad spot.

“I felt (I had to change) a couple of years ago,” Reaves said. “All these big guys are leaving the league now and the game is getting faster and younger. You’ve got to adapt.”

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