In Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final, the Vegas Golden Knights faced off against the Florida Panthers. The game was marked by a thunderous hit by the Panthers’ Matthew Tkachuk on the Golden Knights’ Jack Eichel in the second period. The hit sent Eichel to the ice, and he had to retreat to the locker room. However, rather than ending his night, Eichel returned for the third period and set up the fifth goal of seven in a rout of the Panthers that put Vegas up 2-0 in the best-of-seven series.
The hit was quickly determined by all involved to be clean, and Eichel’s bounce back only further exemplified a team mantra that “it hurts to win.” Players checked in with Eichel at intermission to make sure he was okay, and after that, they repeated that phrase over and over.
Eichel refused to complain about the hit and even took responsibility for putting himself in that position. That kind of hit used to be commonplace in the NHL but has faded with the evolution of players toward skill and away from potentially brutal contact. Tkachuk, the Panthers’ leading scorer this postseason and their emotional leader, is not afraid to throw his body around to make a difference and carries with him an old-school mentality about players protecting themselves.
The hit itself was made worse by Eichel losing his footing, “toe-picked a bit,” mere seconds before contact. He landed awkwardly and grimaced while skating off. Eichel later conceded he got the wind knocked out of him, but it appeared worse in real time.
Vegas was already leading 4-0 at the time, so Eichel sitting out for precautionary reasons would not have been all that unusual. However, after coach Bruce Cassidy confirmed everything was okay, Eichel was back on the bench at the start of the third, providing a boost by his mere presence.
Eichel’s first shift back saw him win a puck battle and feed the puck to Jonathan Marchessault for his second goal of the game and the Golden Knights’ fifth. The announcement of Eichel’s assist drew a louder-than-usual cheer from the crowd of 18,561. That meant a lot to Eichel, who also appreciated teammates making sure he was good to go.
In the end, the Knights won the game. Teammates called Eichel strong and “a warrior,” and his coach was most proud of his toughness.
“That’s hockey,” Cassidy said. “It’s okay to get hit in June. This is part of the journey. It hurts to win, and it’s not supposed to be easy. Good for him.”