DALLAS — If this is it for Maxime Lagace, he certainly did not disappoint.
The 24-year-old goalie, in his 13th start of the season, held the Dallas Stars to just three goals on 39 shots. Lagace’s sixth win may have been his finest showing of the year, as he kept a strong Dallas offense led by the likes of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, John Klingberg and Alexander Radulov at bay.
Golden Knights head coach Gerard Gallant praised the former Stars farmhand.
"He's battled hard and played real well,” he said. “(Lagace) was the difference maker in the game tonight for sure."
Lagace’s athleticism was on full display in this contest, something the young netminder credits to his offseason training.
“My legs have gotten much stronger and I’m a lot more flexible,” Lagace said. “(Golden Knights goaltender coach) Dave [Prior] helped me throughout.”
This was a recurring theme throughout the game, as he seemed to make at least one sprawling save in each period, in a style not dissimilar to the team’s No. 1 goalie, Marc-Andre Fleury.
It’s only fitting then that Fleury’s long-awaited return from injured reserve will be what likely spells the end of Lagace’s time in a Vegas sweater.
His probable swansong was then even more special. This was no easy win either, as Lagace was forced to make a career-high 36 saves against an aggressive Stars club.
"I knew they were gonna buzz," Lagace said. "They like to look for the tap-ins. I just kept my head on the puck and [it] ended up on my blocker or pads."
The Stars also boasted a few familiar faces for the well-traveled goalie, as he played parts of two seasons with the Texas Stars, Dallas’ AHL affiliate. Did Lagace implement any inside info on guys like Stephen Johns or Gemel Smith, two of his former teammates in the Stars organization?
“No, I try not to think about those things, I let the game come to me,” Lagace said. “Those are things I can’t control.” He smiled. “But when ‘Smitty’ came by, I said ‘hi’ to him.”
Lagace admitted that it was “nerve-wracking” stepping on the ice at the American Airlines Center against his former team, but once the game started, it was hard to tell. Regardless what the Stars threw at him, he usually had an answer.
It’s as cliched as any piece of conventional hockey wisdom, but the goaltender is truly a team’s most important penalty killer, and Lagace was a perfect 7-for-7 on Stars shots with the man advantage.
Gallant was quick to give praise to both his goaltender and the penalty-killing unit. “They had a lot of scrambles around our net, and I thought our guys did a good job not giving them second and third chances,” the skipper said. “The defense is a big part of our goaltending and goaltending is a huge part of our defense.”
It’s hard to not think of this story as anything but highly improbable. The Saint-Augustin, Quebec native went undrafted following a major junior career in which he posted a 39-64-10 record, an .874 save percentage (SV%) and a 4.13 goals-against average (GAA). Follow that up with inconsistent stints in the ECHL and AHL and it is difficult to imagine a path to the sport’s greatest league.
Lagace was understandably emotional after the game.
“It’s been a dream come true, you’re not gonna have a chance like I had very often,” he said. “I feel like I did good with what I have.”
At the end of the day, an .872 SV% and a 3.79 GAA across 14 NHL games is not going to raise any eyebrows. But what he meant to this team — an expansion club on their fourth goaltender — cannot be understated.
“I was kind of thrown in dry in the beginning, but it’s been a great learning experience,” Lagace said. “I’ve enjoyed the ride since day one.”
Lagace’s ride as a Golden Knight is likely over for the foreseeable future, and he should shortly head to the Chicago Wolves, where he is likely to take over the starting role in net. His time in Vegas should not be diminished, however, as he rang up six wins for the expansion club, three of which came against currently projected playoff teams.
“If it’s the end, you want to end it on a good note,” said Lagace.
He certainly did.