Jack Eichel channels the “energy” of Buffalo fans into a revenge hat trick
BUFFALO — Jack Eichel I knew what was coming. Turns out it was his own revenge.
The Golden Knights forward — and previous you will know captain: He was in town to face his former team Thursday night for the second time since Buffalo traded him to Las Vegas last November. The last time he was at KeyBank Center, on March 10, Eichel had zero points in a 3-1 loss at Las Vegas while facing a barrage of consistent, hard-hitting boos.
In his return on Thursday, Eichel came away with a hat trick in the third period and a four-point performance that lifted the Golden Knights to a level. Victory 7-4extending their winning streak to nine games and an NHL-best 13-2-0 record.
After each score, Eichel, riding a seven-point streak, taunted the assembled crowd with the same gusto that had shown him with endless boos from the moment his skates hit the ice 35 seconds into the game .
“I think last year I didn’t know what to expect,” Eichel said. “I had an emotional connection, I still do, to this city and these people. I went into this year knowing what I was going to get and the kind of reception. I just tried to use the energy.”
In another era there would have been baseball caps raining down on Buffalo to commemorate three Eichel goals. On Thursday, it was just a few gold domes donated to the ice by the Las Vegas fans in attendance.
“I don’t know if I was [the villain] or not,” Eichel said of his finish. “There seemed to be a lot of people in Vegas shirts and gear here too, so we had a lot of support. … [The fans] obviously they were all night with me. It felt good to get one [initially]. It was a big moment of the game for our group.”
His final score was an empty-netter in the final seconds of the game. Eichel had been stoned by the Sabers net Eric Comrie on two solo occasions earlier in the game and enjoyed an easy goal opportunity.
“[You’re] just try to take advantage of it if you can,” he said. “Obviously, it seemed [Comrie] I had my number a couple of times on the run. So sometimes it’s easier to score if it’s not in the net.”
The Golden Knights’ previous visit to Buffalo in March was an emotional moment expected for Eichel after spending six years with the club that selected him second overall in the 2015 NHL draft. Eichel had to be the savior of the Sabres. Instead, the sides parted on bad terms stemming from a denied medical procedure Eichel wanted to repair a disc injury in his neck that Buffalo wouldn’t approve.
Still, it’s true that Eichel was caught off guard by the poor reception fans gave him in March; there were even boos during his tribute video. That night, the center was so rattled that he clapped back at fans who had clapped him once.
“It was the loudest I’ve ever heard this place,” Eichel said in March. “Really. It only took seven years and I left for them to get into the game. They just have to [have been] boo because they wish he was still here.”
His spur-of-the-moment reaction set the stage for Eichel to endure another tough reception on Thursday. It included more boos, none louder than when he activated Eichel’s assist Alex Pietrangelothe third period count was announced, or when their own goals were scored.
Eichel also drew some cheers, especially when Comrie stonewalled him one-on-one in the first and second periods. The opening stop was followed by a chorus of “Jack, you suck” chants.
Seeing Eichel face that criticism and respond so well was encouraging to his Las Vegas teammates.
“Three goals and an assist in a game like this, where the crowd is all over you like that? That’s one of the most impressive performances I’ve ever seen,” said the Knights captain. Mark Stone said “I know people around here think he’s got no character. But my God, we’ve seen what Jack really is. He carries a huge burden for us. And for him to be able to do that tonight, I know it’s special for us. he . I’m almost getting excited just to be a part of it.”
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