Let me take you through my vantage point.
I thought the initial shot from Ilya Mikheyev went in. It was a wicked shot. He comes down the left side and fires the puck through traffic. It’s at this moment where I’m about to tweet the words Vegas Golden Knights fans have wanted to vomit over the past three weeks:
“The Golden Knights blew another two-goal lead.”
But as I readied the keys and the gif machine, I look up and see Nic Petan has the puck on his stick. Mikheyev hit something and the puck rattles out. Now, it’s Petan with a chance to tie the game.
The storyline is written.
The Golden Knights are one Petan rebound away from blowing another lead. All Petan has in front of him is an open net and imagination.
In the midst of this, Marc-Andre Fleury is likely flabbergasted that the shot from Mikheyev hit iron, not knowing that another opportunity was waiting for him by the hands of the hockey gods.
Think of a basketball game. Your favorite team is in a Game 7. They have the ball, down by one. The team’s best player, going full isolation trying to be the hero, sizes up his defender and launches the potential winning shot.
It just hangs there. Time stands still. It almost feels like an eternity before the ball comes down, swishes through the net and jubilation is had for the winning team.
As Petan fires this puck on the rebound, time slows a bit. It’s a weird concept in hockey, a fast-paced game that never slows down for anyone. Yet somehow, it takes a Matrix-like approach for the Vegas Golden Knights’ goaltender to somehow be one step ahead of the second shooter. And as Petan lets the puck go, it’s almost as if Fleury understands that the only conceivable way he can preserve the lead is hopping out of the phone booth like Clark Kent and doing something that seems otherworldly.
The end result? Whatever the hell this was.
Fleury does not go side-to-side in the crease. He does not read and react. No, this man goes full north-south, leaps (quite literally) off the ground, extends the glove, and completes the most incredible singular athletic feat that has ever been seen in the National Hockey League.
That save, along with eight or nine ridiculous saves Fleury made on this night, is what preserved that one-goal lead for the Golden Knights. They did not blow a two-goal lead; they defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-2 for their second consecutive win. It’s the first time since mid-October that the Golden Knights have won back-to-back games.
For one night, we’re going to pretend like none of that matters, even though the sky was falling for some about 7-10 days ago. It’s a moment where, when it happens, you think you’ve been transported to a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Imagine for a brief moment that this save happens in a playoff game, where the team on the attack is down 3-2 with minutes to play.
And that happens.
Hell, Fleury had one of those moments. Remember this?
But, no. This is game 23 of the regular season, a game in which the Golden Knights needed to win against a banged-up Toronto team that came in losers of five straight. All the Maple Leafs needed was Petan to pot this rebound, bring the game to overtime, and it likely ends (given Vegas’ luck) with a Golden Knights defeat.
“It was fun,” Fleury said. “A little lucky because I didn’t stop the first one because it hit the crossbar. It’s good when you get those second saves to redeem yourself. It was a lot of fun.”
Fun. This man is describing turning into Superman for two seconds ‘fun.’
What else can he say, really?
If this was any other goaltender, ‘fun’ would not exist in this timeline. But this is a man who, in the same period, went full-on juggling act in a 2-1 game because of course he did.
You should not expect anything different from Fleury, who made 31 saves to win the 450th game of his NHL career. This kind of moment, on this kind of stage, is what drives Fleury to be a goaltender not of this world. Hockey-wise, he’s been through a great deal the past few years. Yet this was one instance where the world is reminded that Fleury is playing the best hockey of his career.
From the moment he was selected in the expansion draft, Fleury has been the backbone of the Golden Knights. So of course, when the team starts winning, he racks up the milestones that surpasses some of the greats to have played before him.
He’s now one of only seven goaltenders to win 450 games. We wouldn’t be discussing these milestones every time they happen had it not been him winning said games.
“It’s pretty cool. You guys keep reminding me of where I’m at,” Fleury said with a laugh. “Like I’ve said many times before, I’ve been fortunate to play on some good teams. It’s a lot of fun for me to win those games. A lot of fun to win, more than to lose them. Hopefully, we can keep it up.”
Oh, yeah. There was a game.
The fact we’re talking about this save the following morning and not the fact that the Golden Knights just won consecutive games for the first time in a month makes it seem like the world is back to normal in VGK land.
Vegas had to respond in some fashion after embarrassing losses at Detroit, and home to Chicago and at Los Angeles. Going 4-2 in this stretch where they had five of six at home would be considered successful. After losing to the Blackhawks and Kings, that four-win stretch seemed bleak. But with wins over the Flames and Maple Leafs, outscoring them by a combined 10-2, the Golden Knights are right back in fun territory with the Sharks coming to T-Mobile Arena on Thursday, and the Pacific-leading Oilers following suit on Saturday.
Thanks to their superstar goaltender, winning these last two seem more possible than it did last week.
“He’s pretty incredible when he makes saves like that,” said coach Gerard Gallant. “As a coach, you come to expect that from him. He’s acrobatic, he never gives up on the puck.”
Vegas, in kind, has played well in front of Fleury in the past two games. The reinsertion of Deryk Engelland into the lineup has sort of stabilized the blue line, for now, for Vegas.
“I think we’ve played better hockey,” said defenseman Shea Theodore. “I think we’ve been playing faster and a lot of our guys have been ready to go from puck drop and playing a full 60-minute game.”
This was an early must-win for Vegas. There hasn’t been much to cheer for lately. For one moment, at 16:17 of the third period on Tuesday night at T-Mobile Arena, Vegas got that moment. It got the jolt in the arm needed to move forward with two crucial divisional games upcoming.
It also helps to have an alien in net.
“I thought we played well. We kept pushing back. We got two goals in the third, maybe something we haven’t done much lately other than the Calgary game,” Fleury said. “It’s good for everybody’s confidence that we were able to hold up to that game.”