Tomas Tatar hasn’t lived up to expectations as a member of the Golden Knights, but he started to make up for it Monday night in Vegas’ 3-1 series-tying victory over the Winnipeg Jets.
The 27-year-old, who was acquired from the Detroit Red Wings at the NHL trade deadline, was re-inserted into Vegas’ lineup for Game 2 of the Western Conference finals and repaid the faith of coach Gerard Gallant by scoring the first goal of the evening.
Tatar took Ryan Carpenter’s pass at the side of Connor Hellebuyck’s net and fired a shot off the post, before quickly gathering the rebound and tucking it behind the Jets goaltender to give the Golden Knights the lead.
The first-period marker was Tatar’s fourth career Stanley Cup playoff goal, but his first for the Golden Knights in five games this postseason.
After registering just six points (four goals, two assists) in 20 regular season contests with Vegas, Tatar has found himself watching most his team’s playoff run from afar as a healthy scratch. That made Monday’s return to the lineup, his first appearance since Game 4 of the Sharks’ series on May 2, a little more difficult.
“At the start, I was feeling a little shaky,” Tatar told NHL Network after the win. “Obviously, when you didn’t play and you’re jumping in a conference final it’s kind of hard, but I was just trying to keep it together, trying to play as simple as you can at the start and shift by shift I was getting more confident. We had a great shift (before the goal) and then I was really happy I found the net.”
Tatar said that he focused on his preparation during the layoff so he would be ready when Gallant called his number and didn’t try to silence any of his critics in his return to game action.
“It’s not about proving anything,” Tatar said. “It’s about teamwork and team attitude and I think that’s what we proved tonight. We came back and we stole one game here in Winnipeg, which is huge.”
Golden Knights forward James Neal said that the performances of Tatar, and fellow returnee Tomas Nosek, epitomized what the team has been doing all season.
“That’s been the story of our team all year,” Neal told reporters. “I think we’ve used everyone, and every time someone goes down and someone else gets an opportunity, they make the most of it. We’ve got a deep team and it was great to see those guys do well tonight.”
Gallant will have about 48 hours to ponder his lineup decisions for Game 3 on Wednesday night (9:00 p.m. ET) when series shifts back to Las Vegas.