“Those types of events are tough to recover from.”
Vegas Golden Knights head coach Peter DeBoer was talking about the gift from the Hockey Gods, delivered via Marc-Andre Fleury, that saw a Montreal Canadiens team skating in an overtime they had absolutely no business being in Friday night.
Montreal was outshot 30-8 in the opening 40 minutes, and 40-21 through three periods. But there they were, those never-say-mourir Canadiens, playing with house money against a Vegas team that had blown so many opportunities to salt this Game 3 away — you just knew that they would not be the one to score last.
Everyone who has been involved in sport knows what happens when one team lets another hang around — even handing them a free game-tying goal with 1:55 to play to help the Habs along.
Everyone, including the Golden Knights themselves, has watched this same movie at various hockey levels in various countries along the road to this National Hockey League semi-final series.
“We did a pretty job of regrouping between the third period and overtime,” offered Vegas captain Mark Stone.
“Those types of events are tough to recover from,” admitted DeBoer. “We talked between the third and the overtime about trying to get our mojo back. I don’t think we were poor in the overtime, but there’s no doubt that carried into the overtime for sure on the negative side, and gave them some pop.”
You’ve no doubt seen the replay already.
With two minutes remaining in a game the Golden Knights led 2-1, Fleury sashayed behind his net to play a Habs dump-in. There is no serious forecheck, no oncoming Montreal player to force a mistake out of the Vegas goaltender.
However, Fleury doesn’t set his feet, and he doesn’t get the meat of his goal stick on the puck.
Suddenly the puck is in his skates, and now Fleury has gone full “Ministry of Silly Walks.” In an eye-blink, the puck is in front of the net with Fleury is still behind it, and Josh Anderson is scoring a goal that you, the reader, would likely have cashed as well. So open was the net, so generous was the opportunity borne of Fleury’s behind-the-net butchery.
Next thing anyone knew, the teams were skating off the ice for a third intermission, with Fleury’s blood pressure undoubtedly through the roof, having single-handedly wasted a dominant effort by his club with one bonehead mishandling of a puck. An overtime two-on-oh gave birth to Anderson’s overtime winner, and a series that should stand at 2-1 for the Golden Knights now favours the Habs, somehow.
“I saw (Fleury) in the hallway between the third and overtime and just said, ‘Lets get this back,’” DeBoer said. “We’ve handled this type of adversity before — there was one in Colorado — and guys have responded for him throughout the playoffs.”
That’s the disappointment inside the hockey dressing room, as anyone who knows the game would attest. So many times has Fleury saved the bacon of his teammates when they coughed up a puck or made a mistake, to the man the Golden Knights wanted nothing more than to pick their goalie up with an overtime goal.
“It is disappointing,” said Reilly Smith. “He stood on his head for us all season. Goals like that are going to happen. We should have done a better job in overtime closing it out.”
It would be a mistake for Vegas to look back on this loss and blame their goalie. A mistake they were not making in the post-game Zoom calls, we might add. (Zoom calls that somehow did not include Fleury himself; the most central figure in the loss who somehow was excluded from participation.)
No, the Knights skaters wanted to talk about their power play, a unit that went 0-for-4 in Game 3 and stands at a troubling 0-for-10 in the series.
“It’s about time as a group that we take a little more pride playing on the power play,” Stone said. “Skunked in the first three games … there are a lot of us who have to figure that out.”
What’s going wrong with the man advantage? Let Smith count the ways.
“There are a lot of problems. I just don’t think you can pinpoint one,” the Vegas forward began. “Breakouts have been bad. We’re not doing a good job handling pressure. We’re not releasing the puck well. We’re not doing a good job crashing the net and getting rebounds. There are a lot of things we have to do better, and it’s costing us the series right now.”
Still, Vegas was by far the better team Friday, and had this one in the bag.
Until, the Gaffe.
It was a big one. The kind of mistake a series can turn on.