Though the matchup began in the afternoon hours, the formidable sun forced the NHL to delay the final two periods due to poor ice conditions.
The picturesque Lake Tahoe backdrop may have been lost in the eight-hour intermission following the opening frame, but the level of play picked up considerably when the second period began.
Vegas found itself trailing by one after Samuel Girard, in his first game back in the Colorado lineup, scored just under three minutes into the game.
Vegas was fortunate to be down by only one goal, as the Avalanche dominated the afternoon opening.
The Knights evened things up 24 minutes and 39 seconds later in the game, but it took quite a bit longer in reality.
In fact, it was exactly nine hours later that the Golden Knights got on the board, as Alec Martinez buried a rebound off an Alex Pietrangelo shot from the blue line.
It was Martinez’s first goal of the season, and it helped Vegas get back into a game that Colorado was controlling.
Part of that was due to undisciplined play by Vegas that resulted in eight penalty minutes in the first 23:18 of play, but it was Chandler Stephenson’s matching minor that proved to be costly.
Instead of getting a power play after drawing an interference call, Stephenson canceled what would have been Vegas’ first power play with a cross-check on Tyson Jost, leading to two minutes of 4-on-4 action.
The issue with 4-on-4 play is that it opens up the ice, which is a problem when Nathan MacKinnon is on the other bench. It took him just 34 seconds to make this clear when he carried the puck through all three zones, skated around Mark Stone and Pietrangelo and ultimately blasted one far-side to give the Avs a 2-1 lead.
Despite multiple goalie interference calls and several high-stick plays, the score remained 2-1 through the end of two.
The Knights got a glorious 5-on-3 opportunity early in the third, but taking the game outside didn’t help Vegas overcome its inexplicable struggles with a two-man advantage.
Instead, the Avalanche scored the next goal to extend their lead to 3-1 at the 13:11 mark. A Devon Toews point shot deflected off Shea Theodore and past Marc-Andre Fleury, who had no chance with a double screen in front.
It seemed like a gutting turning point in the game, but Alex Tuch turned things around with a highlight-reel dandy just 1:14 later.
Tuch protected the puck with a spin-o-rama move from the side of the net and followed it up with a backhand shot that deflected off the stick of Colorado’s Bowen Byram and into the net to bring Vegas back within one.
The Knights were unable to complete the comeback, however. A late push with Fleury on the bench proved to be ineffective as the puck was bouncing and the Knights were overly hesitant to shoot.
Colorado came away with the 3-2 victory after out-playing Vegas for most of the day and night.
It’s the second straight game that ended with a 3-2 defeat for the Knights, but it’s hard to read too much into the loss.
Outdoor games are unpredictable to begin with; throw in a colossal and historic gap between the first and second periods and you have a one-of-a-kind scenario.
Even so, Colorado deserves credit for its strong start to the matchup; though Vegas’ undisciplined play helped, the Avalanche dominated the first period and were in control for most of the 60 minutes. The Knights’ play improved in the portion of the contest played under the stars, but the Avalanche never lost their hold on the game.
Colorado finished the night with a 39-29 advantage in total shots as well as a 45-40 edge in Corsi and a 57.1 percent expected goal share, both at 5-on-5.
Both teams went 0-for-4 on the power play; the only goal not scored at 5-on-5 was MacKinnon’s second-period tally.
Fleury quietly delivered another strong performance, stopping 36 of 39 shots for a .923 save percentage.
Fleury has covered up the fact that Colorado has been the better team for much of the series. Now that the Avs have Gabriel Landeskog, Cale Makar, Girard and Jost back in the fold, it will be even more difficult for the Knights to even up the four-game series at 2-2 when these teams meet in Denver on Monday night.
One thing to keep an eye on is the availability of William Carrier, who could get a call from player safety after his elbow on Landeskog in the second period.
No matter what, it should be a heated game as this rivalry continues to brew.