Knights, Fleury stand up to first-place Flames in 2-1 victory

First things first: Had what every living soul wanted to happen actually occurred Wednesday night, had Marc-Andre Fleury skated to center ice and met his goalie counterpart in David Rittich for an all-out brawl, it would have been the greatest moment in hockey history, or at least since that brown-nosing Mike Eruzione kid told Kurt Russell that he played for the United States of America.

Fleury: The Golden Bomber.

Again, again, again, is right.

If there is no such thing as playoff hockey, a close second might be the sort of playoff atmosphere in March that the Knights and Flames offered before a raucous 18,422 at T-Mobile Arena.

The Knights won 2-1 and, yes, by goodness, we will take a best-of-seven with these teams a month or so from now and not ask questions.

I just want it for the sheer lunacy of watching whichever Calgary goalie might be in the lineup playing pucks behind the net.

Talk about a comedy of errors.

And maybe (hopefully) we would get a lot more of this: During a second-period fracas in which the Knights — now winners of five straight and still undefeated since the Mark Stone Trade Heard ‘Round the NHL — finally got fed up with Calgary making runs at their goalie, Fleury dropped his stick, gave Rittich a death stare and removed a glove.

It went no further.

We dream for another day.

If you gave up doughnuts for Lent, Calgary made your challenge a tad easier with its second-period goal, the first against Fleury in just over 200 minutes of ice time — the longest such streak of his career — and saved Krispy Kreme from handing out even more freebies.

It was like a power play goal that came just as a power play had expired, a blast from Travis Hamonic that would have beaten most goalies, but one Fleury would tell you he should have saved because he always thinks that’s the case.

Calgary leads San Jose in the Pacific Division by three points and the third-place Knights by 10, meaning there is every chance those who met Wednesday could find themselves in a playoff series, be it to begin the postseason or in the second round.

Should such a matchup be presented, more of the same will be needed from the Knights to advance in the Western Conference, meaning if you’re going to eliminate Calgary, you better find a way to keep all that skill from skating free.

“You have to shut their top line down, for starters,” said Knights defenseman Nate Schmidt of a trio that combined for nine shots but no goals Wednesday. “Those guys have to stay off the scoresheet. It’s important when you go against a team like this that wants to jump up all the time, you need to get bodies on them and slow them down.

“Get in their way, not allow them to get up ice cleanly. A team like this creates a lot of plays. It comes down to how well we can apply that back pressure and play on their end as much as possible.”

Crowding Fleury

It wasn’t the easiest of challenges, the Flames finishing with 34 shots, their strategy being pretty apparent early when time and again visiting bodies crowded the crease and did everything possible to make things difficult on Fleury.

They tried taking his eyes away.

They almost got his right cross and a combination or two in the process.

The team with five players that have 62 points or more, including three with 71 or more, that ranks fourth in the NHL in goals, found the net just once.

“(Calgary) has a lot of skill,” Schmidt said. “You have to be really smart when you also decide to go because you can get yourself in trouble fast.

“They just have so much confidence in their group right now. They believe that they can beat any team. Come this time of year, that’s really important to have.”

Sound familiar?

It’s what the Knights owned last season at this time, when claiming the Pacific Division title was near complete. It also looks as though such confidence has found them again, even though defending the crown appears unlikely.

It had all the makings of a playoff game Wednesday, the intensity, the crowd, the close score, the pushing, the shoving …

Come on. Fleury gave a death stare and dropped his glove.

The Golden Bomber!

Forget about it. Classic stuff in March.

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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