Suffice it to say that few professional sports franchises in history have created more memorable moments in their formative years than the Vegas Golden Knights. Both for better and worse.
Tuesday night’s third-period collapse falls in the latter category.
Skating in a deciding Game 7 on the road against the San Jose Sharks, the Golden Knights seemed firmly in control when Max Pacioretty’s goal less than four minutes into the third period gave them a 3-0 advantage. Excuse Golden Knight fans if they sensed the same magic that propelled Vegas to the Stanley Cup Finals last season as a first-year expansion team. Losing a three-goal lead late in a Game 7? Doesn’t happen — unless you’re the 2013 Toronto Maple Leafs.
And then came the faceoff.
With less than 11 minutes remaining following a dropped puck in the Golden Knights’ zone, Paul Stastny appeared to shove Sharks’ center Joe Pavelski as he was falling after being cross-checked. The Shark captain’s head hit the ice, and he lay motionless near drops of blood. After he was helped to the locker room, the Golden Knights were stuck with a five-minute major, meaning they would play a man down for the entire penalty.
The resulting flurry “will be talked about for decades to come,” Review-Journal columnist Ed Graney noted Wednesday, “and not in a flattering manner.”
In a span of four minutes, the invigorated Sharks found the back of the net four times to take the lead. The reeling Golden Knights managed to send the game into overtime with a late tally, but the season came to an abrupt end with less than two minutes left in the extra period when Barclay Goodrow slipped the puck past Marc-Andre Fleury for the win.
Game. Series. Season.
“Last year in the Stanley Cup Finals was tough to lose,” Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant said late Tuesday. “Tonight was tougher than that. It really was the way we lost the hockey game.”
The temptation for Vegas fans will be to point the finger at the officiating. Indeed, some impartial analysts felt the major penalty was overkill. We’ll let the talking heads and the NHL decide. But let’s not ignore the complete disintegration of the Golden Knights’ penalty kill.
The season may be in the books, but the Vegas Golden Knights continue to build an impressive — if brief — resume. Several observers predicted the team would take a step backward following its unprecedented success last season. But the Golden Knights showed character and resiliency by weathering a few regular season hurdles, again earning a playoff berth and nearly pulling off an upset in the first round.
The franchise continues to be a uniting force for Southern Nevada and an unyielding symbol of community pride and progress. Las Vegas is lucky to have them. The future remains bright.