Jack Eichel, the Vegas Golden Knights’ No. 1 center and leading scorer in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, took a huge hit and went straight to the dressing room in the second period of Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday.
But Eichel returned in the third period and set up a goal on his next shift, helping the Golden Knights win 7-2 and take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-7 series.
It appears he will be OK for Game 3 at FLA Live Arena in Sunrise, Florida, on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; TNT, TBS, truTV, CBC, SN, TVAS).
“Honestly, I’m going to have to look at the hit again, but when I saw it briefly between periods, talking with the guys, it probably is a clean hit,” Eichel said. “It’s a big collision, and this is hockey.”
Eichel collected the puck on his backhand along the boards in the Vegas zone, then turned and carried it up ice, picking up speed as Florida forward Matthew Tkachuk came off the bench and skated in his direction.
As Tkachuk lowered his right shoulder in anticipation of the hit just inside the Golden Knights blue line, Eichel lost the puck, leaned forward and tripped. He fell toward Tkachuk and turned his right shoulder, making himself even more vulnerable.
Tkachuk stayed low and compact, and he made full body contact, knocking Eichel backward. Eichel fell onto his back, helmet flying. But Tkachuk did not hit his head, and his head did not hit the ice.
“It doesn’t matter who you are,” Tkachuk said. “You shouldn’t be going through the middle with your head down. You’re going to get hit. I mean, I would get hit too if I had my head down in the middle.
“It’s nothing. It’s not a big deal. He’s a really good player, and really good players can get hit too.”
Eichel essentially agreed.
“I kind of blame myself a bit,” Eichel said. “I lose the puck, and then I’m reaching for it, and I trip, and he’s right there. So, I didn’t really say anything that it was a dirty hit or anything.
“I’ll have to look at it again, but you don’t want to put yourself in that position. Unfortunately, he finishes a good hit. But you know, I’m fine now, so we’ll just move on.”
Eichel didn’t look fine at first, though. He looked like he was injured. He was on all fours, head down. Then he skated to the bench with a distressed look on his face and disappeared down the tunnel.
“No need to lay on the ice,” Eichel said. “Just get up and go collect myself.”
Asked if he had the wind knocked out of him, he said, “A little bit, yeah.”
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A scrum ensued. Tkachuk and Vegas forward Ivan Barbashev each took a minor penalty for roughing and a 10-minute misconduct penalty. Panthers defenseman Gustav Forsling and Golden Knights defenseman Alex Pietrangelo each took a minor penalty for roughing.
“Once I got back to the locker room, I knew he was fine,” Barbashev said. “It’s a clean hit. He’s just a little bit unlucky. He toe-picked, and it is what it is, and we’re happy he’s OK.”
When the Golden Knights came out for the third period, Eichel didn’t even take a twirl to test his body. He just went to the center of the bench, wiped his visor with a towel and got ready like nothing had happened.
On his first shift, he battled with Panthers defenseman Josh Mahura up the ice and into the left-wing corner. Eventually, he grabbed the puck along the boards and whipped a pass into the middle.
Forward Jonathan Marchesssault skated in all alone and beat goalie Alex Lyon to put Vegas ahead 5-1 at 2:10.
The assist was Eichel’s second of the game and fourth of the series. He became the seventh player since 1943-44 to have multiple points in each of his first two games in the Cup Final.
Eichel has 22 points (six goals, 16 assists) in 19 playoff games, leading Vegas and tying its record set by forward Reilly Smith (five goals, 17 assists) in 2017-18.
“I’m mean, he’s unbelievable, right?” Marchessault said. “It’s not just with the puck. It’s without the puck, the way he works everywhere on the ice. He’s one of those guys that makes everyone look better.
“He gets a massive hit there, goes into the locker room. First shift back in the third period, he gets on the forecheck, on the body, win his battle, finds me. I mean, that’s the resiliency we have in that locker room, and it starts with our top guys and goes right through the lineup.”
NHL.com staff writers Tom Gulitti and Tracey Myers contributed to this story