Script doesn’t go to plan as Holtby, Fleury struggle in Game 1

Marc-Andre Fleury called it the beauty of sport, how that which is unforeseen can deliver the most entertaining of results.

It’s easy to find the charm in such things when your side is victorious.

I have a feeling the Washington Capitals aren’t so chipper about it.

The hockey world descended upon Las Vegas on Monday evening and the season-long amazing run of the Golden Knights continued its pursuit of the not-so-impossible any more, as Vegas beat the Capitals 6-4 in Game 1 of the best-of-seven Stanley Cup Final.

Michael Buffer introduced the starting lineups and those wild pregame ceremonies included the hometown Knight being aided by more flaming spears and a few high-tech cannon balls to destroy those representing the Capitals on ice.

So, yeah, the usual craziness played to form.

But what the announced gathering of 18,575 inside T-Mobile Arena and thousands more at watch parties across Southern Nevada and a television audience then witnessed wasn’t in any manner the best of either team, a feeling-out process that was more sloppy than stellar, more imperfect than impressive.

Fleury is spot-on, though, about sport having this devilish way of altering a perceived narrative, and in this sense, Game 1 hardly played out as most envisioned.

The talk was about how goaltenders would define whoever emerged champion between the Knights and Capitals, and that certainly could still prove correct.

But for openers, Fleury and counterpart Braden Holtby weren’t sharp, certainly not to the level each performed earlier in the playoffs.

“As a goalie, you don’t want to give up so much on both sides, but some nights it’s going to go that way,” said Fleury, who faced 28 shots to 33 against Holtby. “You’ve got try to be able to stay with it, try to make the next save. I have a lot of confidence in our guys.

“It was a little too exciting for the goalies. It was a little too interesting. It doesn’t matter what number (of game) it is in the series. Nothing is over, right?”

Fleury entered the final amid a deserved buzz of Conn Smythe chatter, playing at a playoff MVP level while offering a 1.68 goals-against average and .947 save percentage.

Holtby wasn’t even a first-round starter, but then grabbed hold tight of the spot and posted shutouts in Games 6 and 7 against Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference Final.

He hadn’t allowed a goal in 159 minutes, 27 seconds entering Monday.

So it went that those defending in front of Fleury were better than those aiding Holtby, although no portion of either team was outstanding sans the fourth line of Vegas, a central reason Washington didn’t steal home ice in Game 1.

Vegas had some bad luck when Fleury accidentally kicked a puck into his net for a Washington goal to make it 4-3 Capitals early in the third, and then some incredible fortune when Lars Eller missed an open net in front (with the aid of Brayden McNabb’s defensive stick) that would have tied the game in the waning seconds after Holtby had been pulled for an extra skater.

“Both teams will say there was some rust and I think both believe they can take it to another level,” said Capitals coach Barry Trotz. “I know we can. I think you look at what they have done defensively and what Marc-Andre has done (coming in), but we had a good plan. We didn’t win the game. I would have rather gotten five or six (goals) against him than four.”

Both sides will watch tape and tighten things up and be better in Game 2 on Wednesday, but if this is even close to a preview of what is to come, alert the faint of heart to view with caution.

Exciting doesn’t always translate to crisp play.

Sometimes, it’s just exciting.

Sometimes, what you think might occur doesn’t come close to being so.

“Obviously it’s not what was expected of both of us, or what I want,” Fleury said of himself and Holtby. “It’s not gonna go perfect every night. I put (one) in my net by myself. It happens. It’ll happen again at some point in my career. You just gotta brush it off, forget about it, and try to stop the next one.”

You just have to understand that sport can be devilish this way.

One side thought it beautiful Monday.

The other, not so much.

More Golden Knights: Follow all of our Golden Knights coverage online 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 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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