The Knights entered the game on a five-game winning streak but were unable to ride the momentum into the holiday break.
It was the final NHL contest prior to said break, which was moved up two days in response to the COVID-19 outbreak across the league.
Alex Pietrangelo and Evgenii Dadonov were added to the COVID protocol list prior to the game, as was Lightning head coach Jon Cooper.
It was a matchup the Golden Knights controlled or dominated for long stretches, but Vegas missed an opportunity to secure two points and add to their lead atop the Pacific Division standings.
Both teams scored three unanswered goals, but the lone goal in the third period proved to be the deciding factor.
The Lightning opened the scoring just over six minutes into the game.
A turnover by Michael Amadio in the defensive zone led to a 2-on-1 for Tampa Bay. Gabriel Fortier elected to shoot, beating Laurent Brossoit short-side for his first career NHL goal.
But the Golden Knights erased that 1-0 deficit just over three minutes later when Max Pacioretty set up Mark Stone on the power play.
Max: "PASS...YOU READY??"— Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) December 22, 2021
It was the Golden Knights’ 10th power-play goal in December.
Vegas outshot the Lightning 17-5 in the first period, but the steady play of Andrei Vasilevskiy kept it tied at 1-1 through 20 minutes.
Stone had an injury scare in the first period but returned to the game, and he kicked off the second period with his second of the night just 1:41 into the middle frame.
we are on a Mark Stone hat trick watch pic.twitter.com/gvjxnjgXWp— Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) December 22, 2021
It was a harmless shot that somehow beat Vasilevskiy five-hole, giving the Knights their first lead of the game.
Nicolas Roy scored the team’s third unanswered goal and did so in filthy fashion.
Roy pulled off a deke so smooth that it tripped up Norris-winning defenseman Victor Hedman and sent him to the ice.
Hockey world, meet Nicolas Roy's hands pic.twitter.com/XrjjVhfaCe— Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) December 22, 2021
Roy’s sixth of the season gave the Knights a two-goal lead 8:10 into the second period, the first 17 minutes of which were completely one-sided in Vegas’ favor.
Despite the dominant effort, the Knights lost control in the span of 43 seconds, as the Lightning scored on consecutive shots.
Pierre-Edouard Bellemare bested his former team once again, pulling Tampa within one at 17:07 of the second.
Anthony Cirelli followed suit just 43 seconds later, lifting the puck over Brossoit’s pad with 2:20 remaining in the frame.
Through 40 minutes, Brossoit had given up three goals on 13 shots; by contrast, Vasilevskiy had surrendered three on 28.
Even so, the clubs entered the third period even at 3-3.
However, a costly hooking penalty on Jonathan Marchessault just over eight minutes into the third put Tampa Bay on the power play, thus setting up the turning point in the game.
The Knights were four seconds away from killing off the penalty and returning to 5-on-5 action but fell victim to the Steven Stamkos special, a one-timer from the circle with deadly accuracy.
The Lightning captain potted the go-ahead goal at 10:16 of the third period, and the Lightning held on to the 4-3 lead until the final buzzer.
The Knights outshot the Lightning 41-19 on the night, but Vasilevskiy’s 38 saves helped Tampa steal the two points. The Lightning are now the best team in the NHL with 44 points.
The loss doesn’t affect Vegas’ standing in the Pacific Division but does leave the Knights more vulnerable, as most teams have several games in hand.
Even so, the Golden Knights’ true loss was not reflected in the box score or standings.
Stone was taken out in the neutral zone in the first period and remained on the ice after his right leg buckled awkwardly in the collision. Though he returned and scored his second goal of the game, he left the bench just under seven minutes into the second period and did not return.
Stone’s departure seemed to turn the tide for Vegas, and his health remains a concern moving forward, especially since he missed Sunday’s game and has been battling an injury all season.
He is critical to this team’s success.
But despite snapping a season-best five-game winning streak, there were positive takeaways from the loss.
For one thing, the Knights outplayed the best team in the NHL. That doesn’t matter in the standings, but it’s an encouraging step for a Vegas team that was in a very different position last month.
This is especially true since the team was missing its top defense pair, with Pietrangelo in COVID protocol and Nic Hague day-to-day with an injury.
Robin Lehner is day-to-day as well.
It was not an inspiring performance in net, especially since scoring three goals is usually enough for a Vegas win. Brossoit stopped 15 of 19 shots for a .789 save percentage.
He did make some big stops, however, including a save on Corey Perry at the side of the net and a clutch pad save on Stamkos in the final minutes of regulation off a behind-the-net feed from Ondrej Palat.
But Vasilevskiy was the best player on the ice.
The Knights had several promising scoring chances late in the third, but Vasilevskiy shut the door. He kept Tampa in the game all night and withstood Vegas’ various offensive onslaughts, finishing the contest with a .927 save percentage. Brian Elliott, who played for three seconds when Vasilevskiy left the ice with an equipment issue, did not face a shot.
The Golden Knights were fairly disciplined even though a penalty led to the game-winning goal. Both teams went 1-for-2 on the power play.
Assuming the season resumes as scheduled following the holiday break, the Knights’ next matchup is Monday night against the Colorado Avalanche.