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In order to embrace present, Golden Knights must bury past

Nate Schmidt would prefer to cast a massive net belonging to a deep sea fisherman when remembering that fateful 4:01 of ice time, a viewpoint of bottom trawling miles of canyon rather than focusing on casting for perch in some hidden creek.

“I look at it a little different,” said Schmidt, the Golden Knights’ top defenseman. “I think of it as a much greater, more complex piece of art than just a simple four minutes in time.

“No game or series is four minutes. If we take advantage of the opportunity to close things out in earlier games, the call is never made and we’re never talking about it. But we didn’t. We learned that when you don’t finish, you put yourself in position for something like that to happen. They were a great team. We saw that. But we didn’t finish it.”

It’s true that our lives are as rivers and go where they must and not always as we desire them. So as the Golden Knights opened a third training camp as the NHL team of Las Vegas on Friday, how last season ended undoubtedly offered a learning curve to embrace as a new one begins.

Players have for some time talked about burying the vision of a 5-minute major and game misconduct assessed center Cody Eakin at 9:53 of the third period in Game 7 of a first-round playoff series against San Jose.

Lower the coffin. Pick up the shovel. Pile on the dirt.

Hold the opitimism

But before optimism of the present takes its typical sturdy grip on a team thought as talented and capable as the Knights, recalling how they responded to the call on Eakin is just as significant from which to move on.

And they did so horrendously.

As bad as the call was — and we’re talking terrible — it was an immediate reaction, far more standard teeth cleaning than the root canal that followed.

What the Knights did — allow four power-play goals over the next 4:01 that saw the Sharks erase all of a 3-0 deficit — ultimately led to a 5-4 loss in overtime and first-round playoff exit a year after Vegas advanced to the Stanley Cup Final as an expansion franchise.

It was fascinating and painful and implausible to watch all at once, a entire season striking the iceberg and beginning its slow and hypnotizing submersion. It was a collapse so amazing that it seemed to even mesmerize coach Gerard Gallant, who elected not to use his timeout and possibly calm the howling storm.

“There are going to be missed calls, bad calls, it doesn’t matter,” said defenseman Deryk Engelland. “At the end of the day, our penalty kill came up short and needed to do a lot better. Even if we just allow one or two goals there, we win the game and move on. For a guy like me, who is on the ice for the kill a lot, you have to do your job better.

“You have to take it all to heart. It’s in the back of your mind. But we also have to move on. Everyone is itching to get going again.”

Mostly, as Schmidt’s net drags along the ocean floor searching for deeper reasoning, such an ending creates perspective about the difficulty of advancing in the playoffs.

Finishing isn’t easy

Two years ago, the Knights opened their historic post-season run by sweeping the Kings, and yet it was anything but a 4-0 series. It was difficult and physical and defined by a total scoring margin of 7-3.

One game reached double overtime.

Things could have easily gone the other way.

So while four in 4:01 is pretty darn easy to compartmentalize, the lessons learned from losing to San Jose are wider in depth, ones that younger players destined to make this year’s roster out of training camp can be taught as the season progresses.

Not that any of it made forgetting Game 7 less taxing.

“I was able to (move on from it) once (San Jose) was eliminated,” said Knights goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. “I felt a little better then. I didn’t want to watch them on TV any more.

“It took a while. I believed our team was strong enough to make a drive for (the Cup).”

It is yet again.

So while clumps of dirt are falling on the coffin of a 5-minute major, include in the burial of four in 4:01.

Just remember, it was about much more than just a little creek fishing.

More Golden Knights: Follow at reviewjournal.com/GoldenKnights and @HockeyinVegas on Twitter.

Contact columnist Ed Graney at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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