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Marc-Andre Fleury stellar in return to Golden Knights lineup despite 3-2 shootout loss to Hurricanes

The Golden Knights lost, which stinks. But Fleury looked great, which is awesome!

NHL: Carolina Hurricanes at Vegas Golden Knights Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been two months since Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury last played a game of hockey. The 33-year-old went down with a concussion in the Golden Knights’ fourth game of the season, causing him to miss a total of 25 games.

At the time of the injury, it almost felt as if the sky was falling on a Golden Knights team that had won three of their first four contests in franchise history. But thanks to some incredible performances from Malcolm Subban, Oscar Dansk and Maxime Lagace, the Golden Knights are inexplicably one of the best teams in the Western Conference going into the new year.

As good as Vegas’ fill-in goalies had been, though, Fleury finally made his heroic, long awaited return to the cage against the Carolina Hurricanes Tuesday night. And though things didn’t necessarily go the Golden Knights’ way, he did not disappoint.

In the game’s first 20 minutes, Carolina tested Fleury with 11 shots. Most of them would be stopped effortlessly by the former Pittsburgh Penguin.

Then something really weird happened.

With less than four minutes remaining in the first period, an attempted stretch pass from Brayden McNabb deflected off the stick of Marcus Kruger (a former Golden Knights legend) and dribbled past the unsuspecting Fleury to give Carolina the 1-0 lead. What a bizarre sequence of events to end the period.

Luckily, things started to go the Golden Knights’ way in the middle third. Just 67 seconds into the period, all-world sniper defenseman Deryk Engelland beat Cam Ward with a wicked wrister from the point to tie the game up at one apiece.

It didn’t take the Hurricanes long to respond, though. Just a few minutes later, Fleury made a spectacular save to fend off Carolina forward Jeff Skinner from point-blank. However, he wasn’t able to stop the consequent angle shot from defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk, who gave the Canes a one-goal lead.

Later on, the Knights tied the game once again in spectacular fashion.

Defenseman Colin Miller sent a gorgeous stretch pass to Reilly Smith down the center of the ice to create the Golden Knights’ best scoring chance of the night. And Smith took full advantage of it, beating Ward blocker side to knot up the contest.

Look at this freaking pass!

The Hurricanes nearly reclaimed the lead late in the period, but Fleury made a terrific one-on-one save on Skinner to keep the game locked up at two going into the third period.

Carolina kept applying pressure in the final third, but, of course, Fleury was up for the challenge.

Early in the period, Fleury made a ridiculous diving blocker save to keep the game tied.

He was amused.

Later on, he bobbled a glove save off a slapper from Skinner, but still managed to freeze the puck and force a faceoff.

Unlike the contest’s first two periods, the final third would end without any goals, which meant the Golden Knights would head to overtime for the fourth time in their last five games.

And like the third period, neither team was able to score in overtime. Although the Hurricanes did come close, but a Nate Schmidt poke check kept the puck away from Fleury.

The Golden Knights have been great in the shootout as of late. But this time, they fell just short of two points as Phillip Di Giuseppe beat Fleury in the shootout for the win.

Despite losing in the shootout, Fleury looked terrific in his return to action. Had it not been for a fluky goal in the first period, he and the Golden Knights very well could have walked away from the T-Mobile Arena with two points.

Regardless, Fleury helped Vegas steal a point as he saved 35 of 37 shots. And he’ll need to be just as good Thursday when he faces off against his former team.

Something tells me that should be a good one.