WINNIPEG – During a television timeout halfway through the second period Saturday, with the white-out crowd mocking Marc-Andre Fleury by bellowing the goalie’s name, Vegas Golden Knight forwards Jonathan Marchessault and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare skated from the bench to talk to their teammate.
With Marchessault, it’s kind of a thing. He often ambles down to the Golden Knights’ end, where Fleury spends timeouts hunkered behind his net rather than skating a return trip to the bench. It’s like water-cooler talk at the office for Marchessault and Fleury. They speak French.
"I like to go see Flower in TV timeouts," Marchessault explained. "Just talk, like, ‘How are we doing?’ Stuff like that."
But Bellemare’s visit was rarer. He had to get close enough to Fleury for the goalie to hear him above the din of "Fleur-y! Fleur-y!
What did Bellemare tell him?
"They must really love him to yell his name that loud," Bellemare said. "After the first period, (when) we didn’t help him enough – it was not him — he kind of saved us a few times."
But in the first period of the first game of the National Hockey League’s Western Conference final, Fleury allowed Winnipeg Jet defenceman Dustin Byfuglien’s unscreened slapshot to beat him from 50 feet just 65 seconds after the opening faceoff.
By 7:35, Patrik Laine had added a power-play goal and a video review determined that Joel Armia neither kicked the puck in nor interfered with Fleury when the Winnipeg forward made it 3-0 from inside the Vegas goal crease.
And soon after that, the wry crowd was changing up its chants, mixing in: "We want Sub-ban! We want Sub-ban!" in reference to Knights’ backup Malcolm Subban, the brother of Nashville Predator defenceman P.K. Subban, who was bounced by the Jets from the Stanley Cup playoffs two nights earlier.
Fleury has heard a lot in his 13-year NHL career, but that was a new one.
"Yeah, you can hear it," Fleury said, still able to smile after the 4-2 loss. "In this building, they don’t even play music, they just let them chant. I hear it. It’s fun. I’ve been yelled at, screamed at, before. I’m sure it will happen again. It’s part of the game, right?"
It can be. When you’re down three-buzz to the home team in front of the most frenzied crowd in the NHL, you’re going to hear stuff.
In those eight minutes, the Golden Knights almost looked like an expansion team. They kept turning over the puck, took a neutral-zone hooking penalty, didn’t get the save or the call they needed, and generally looked as if they were suffering stage fright against the powerful Jets after a spectacularly unexpected run to the conference final in their first NHL season.
That start was so poor that the rest of game hardly mattered, as the Knights settled their nerves, starting skating and taking care of the puck, and probably outplayed the Jets over the final 52 minutes.
Vegas did what they could least afford to – making a deafening building even louder by tripping over the starting blocks and getting run over by the team that had the NHL’s best home record in the regular season.
"There’s no excuses for us," Marchessault said. "They were game-ready, they played hard. They were opportunistic in the first period and were able to cash in a few goals. We responded at the end of the first period. I think we did some good things, but our first 10 minutes need to be better.
"Next game, no excuses. Everybody needs to come and be ready to play our best game of the playoffs. We’re going to show what kind of team we are."
Forward James Neal added: "They came out with a hard push in their own building, ramped up on the high of winning a Game 7 (in Nashville). They got a big goal from Buff right away, so they were amped up. After that we settled in and were fine. We’ll continue to learn from it and win a game in a couple of days."
Game 2 is here Monday.
After Fleury allowed the fourth Winnipeg goal – a whisper of a deflection by Mark Scheifele – to bounce in off the bottom of his catching glove at 9:54 of the second period, it looked like the crowd might get its wish for Subban.
But it wasn’t the backup goalie who came for him in the TV timeout that soon followed, but Marchessault and Bellemare.
Fleury needs to be better. The Knights need to be better. Both parties know this.
"First one, I would like to see it again, for sure," Fleury, who carried a .951 save percentage and 1.53 goals-against average into Saturday’s game, told reporters. "The one that was reviewed, it’s questionable but that’s their decision. And a power-play goal. Just put it behind, forget about it and move on.
"We’ve been through this already. Nobody’s panicking."