Normally in a 4-3 hockey game, goals are the story. Defense and goalies can take a day off.
Players who don’t get a tally on the score sheet, or only have one shot on goal, aren’t thought of when giving praise.
In the case of the Golden Knights’ series-clinching win over the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday, Nicolas Roy might have had the most under-appreciated moment in Vegas’ 4-3 victory.
With 1:14 remaining, a faceoff was set to occur at the left circle in the Vegas zone. Corey Crawford was on the bench, extra attacker deployed. Chicago captain Jonathan Toews — a former Selke Trophy winner and multiple-time Stanley Cup champion — entered the circle to take the draw.
The Golden Knights took the ice following Chicago’s timeout with Paul Stastny, Reilly Smith and Roy as the forwards. Peter DeBoer could’ve gone with the veteran Stastny, the 13-year veteran center who has won 54 percent of faceoffs in his career, to face Toews in the game’s most crucial spot.
Instead, it was the 23-year-old Roy playing in his eighth Stanley Cup Playoff game that was called to task.
Roy lifted Toews’ stick as both players went to one knee, and won the draw. The Golden Knights killed the final minute-plus by allowing one shot and blocking another.
“It was a big ask, but he earned our trust in that situation through his play, starting prior to the pause when I got here,” DeBoer said. “He’s a very responsible player, a kid that has the ability, in my mind, to dig in at key moments and compete in those confrontations and those battles in the faceoff circle and down low defensively.”
The fact this happened in a Game 5 might not loom as large as it would a Game 7, but it’s another instance in which DeBoer has been highly complimentary to Roy since he became Vegas coach on Jan. 15. Roy’s 6-foot-4 frame is a help, but he’s shown soft touch and solid stick work to the point DeBoer has played him on the top six in some instances.
Roy was the subject of 30 transactions this season between the Golden Knights calling him up and sending him down to AHL Chicago.
Some of those times were due to cap space; others were due to not knowing how to best utilize him.
Roy was considered a throw-in from the Carolina Hurricanes when they acquired Erik Haula from Vegas last summer. He had been an AHL stalwart to this point; he led the Charlotte Checkers in scoring en route to the Calder Cup against the aforementioned Wolves.
Other than that, there wasn’t a lot known about Roy from a Vegas perspective. There was one facet to his game that stood out dating back to preseason: faceoffs.
Roy played four of the Golden Knights’ seven preseason games and was a net-positive off the draw in three of those contests (6-for-9, 8-for-12, 6-for-11, 6-for-14). The majority of those wins came much like Tuesday against Toews; in the defensive zone.
Roy was competing with Tomas Nosek for the fourth-line center role, and that battle went to the final days of preseason. If not for Nosek’s knack for killing penalties, Roy might have won out.
Overall, Roy had a 48.2 percent success rate in the faceoff circle this season. Not great by most metrics, but as was the case Tuesday, he’s been reliable when called upon.
“Nic’s done a great job,” Smith said. “He had an opportunity and I think he ran with it. He’s a guy who sees his opportunity, and I think it’s important for the team to be successful when they have different guys get opportunities like that and run with it.”
Roy won 54.8 percent of his draws in the five-game series against Chicago, including a team-best 11-for-17 in Game 3. That was vital to the third line — himself, Nick Cousins and Alex Tuch — playing as big of a role as they did against Chicago.
DeBoer has talked about the importance of having “home-ice advantage” during a postseason that has no real home-ice advantage. One of those benefits is having last change after a stoppage in play. DeBoer chose the best defensive forward trio he could assemble with the game, and series, on the line, and it paid off.
He added it helps that Roy is a right-handed center, the only one on the active roster.
“Even if he didn’t win the draw, I knew that he would put himself in a good spot defensively against Toews,” DeBoer said, “and that’s a trust that he’s developed with how he’s played through the time I’ve been here.”
The hockey scene is learning about Roy’s all-around prowess, which is why the Golden Knights signed Roy to a two-year extension during the season’s pause. But at least if DeBoer needs someone to win a crucial draw with a game on the line, he’s got an option in someone that likely wasn’t an option back in January.
Roy has four points (one goal, three assists) in his first NHL playoff run through eight games.
“It’s so much fun,” Roy said. “You dream about playing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. To be a part of it has been really fun in trying to help the team win. Of course it was fun last year in the Calder Cup Playoffs, but it’s way more fun this year.”