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Maple Leafs 4, Golden Knights 3: Vegas comeback attempt falls short in shootout

Alex Pietrangelo played a game-high 32:55 in the loss.

NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs at Vegas Golden Knights Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

The Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the Vegas Golden Knights 4-3 in a shootout Tuesday night at T-Mobile Arena, handing Vegas its fourth loss in five games in 2022 (1-2-2).

Vegas held a 34-18 lead in shots on goal but failed to convert in the shootout, losing 1-0 in the final tally.

The Golden Knights fell behind by two in the second period, but a strong third period helped them come away with a point in the standings despite missing multiple pieces from the lineup.

Shea Theodore, Nolan Patrick and Nic Roy entered the league’s COVID-19 protocol prior to the contest; Jonas Rondbjerg, Jake Leschyshyn and Daniil Miromanov filled in.

The first period was relatively quiet, but the Maple Leafs got on the board very early with a goal from William Nylander just 84 seconds into the game.

Nylander received a breakout pass from Morgan Rielly, skated in alone on Robin Lehner and beat the Vegas netminder with a deke to the stick side.

Throughout the middle stages of the period, the Golden Knights’ penalty kill stood tall. Vegas killed a Brett Howden holding penalty and a Zach Whitecloud hooking penalty against the league’s best power play.

After the second penalty kill, the Golden Knights got a power-play opportunity of their own after Nick Richie was whistled for hooking.

Vegas capitalized on the man-advantage with a goal from none other than Keegan Kolesar to even things up at 1-1. It was his third goal of the season but the first power-play goal of his career.

On the power play, Chandler Stephenson skated behind the net, causing the Toronto penalty killers to over-commit. Kolesar parked himself in front of the net as all four penalty killers were below the goal line and poked the puck into the net.

The Golden Knights got another power play just under eight minutes into the second but were unable to record a shot despite outshooting the Leafs 10-2 in the second at the midway mark.

The Leafs regained the lead shortly after that penalty kill as Auston Matthews cashed in after he had multiple grade-A chances, including hitting a post, in the game.

Ilya Mikheyev added on to the Toronto lead with his fourth goal in five games at 16:46 of the middle frame, sending the Maple Leafs to the locker room up by two goals despite being outshot 14-6 in the second.

William Karlsson cut into the Toronto lead early in the third period after picking up a loose puck in front of the net and beating Jack Campbell on his backhand.

Nine minutes into the third, the Golden Knights got an abbreviated 5-on-3 after Kyle Clifford was whistled for a trip and Toronto was assessed a bench minor for too many men on the ice.

Alex Pietrangelo capitalized on the opportunity by firing a wrist shot from just beyond the right circle to tie the game at 3-3.

The Golden Knights were unable to score on the carryover power play, and a defense-heavy rest of the third took the game to overtime.

The Golden Knights and Maple Leafs played a very conservative overtime, as the pace of play never accelerated.

Though the Knights held a 3-0 record in shootouts this season, Campbell shut down all three attempts from Evgenii Dadonov, Stephenson and Jonathan Marchessault. Lehner stood tall in the first two rounds, but Nylander found twine to end the game in the third round.

In the end, the Knights went 2-for-2 on the penalty kill and 2-for-5 on the power play. Lehner made 15 saves, including one on an Ondrej Kase breakaway in the third period; he gave the Knights a chance to win the shootout as well, stopping attempts by Jason Spezza and Matthews.

Pietrangelo, who scored the equalizer late in the third, was the best Golden Knight on the ice and set a personal record with 32:55 of ice time. His goal was his first since Dec. 12 (10 games), and he played a massive all-around role in helping the Knights grab a point in the standings.

The Nashville Predators are now two points ahead of Vegas in the Western Conference standings after securing an overtime win against Colorado on Tuesday; the Predators have two games in hand, and several other Central Division clubs have higher points percentages having played fewer games (i.e., Colorado, Minnesota, St. Louis).

For now, however, Vegas remains at the top of the Pacific Division standings with 48 points in 39 games.

The Golden Knights will have an extended period of time to get healthy due to postponed games against Edmonton and Calgary before hosting the Pittsburgh Penguins on January 17.