The script was nearly flipped in favor of the Vegas Golden Knights.
In two of their prior three losses to the Montreal Canadiens, they held a two-goal lead in the third period, only to fall flat and lose in overtime. This time, the Golden Knights were the ones to dig out of a hole — a three-goal hole, nonetheless — and nearly escaped Bell Centre with a win.
But it was former Vegas forward Tomas Tatar’s goal in the top of the fourth round in the shootout that propelled Montreal to a 5-4 win over Vegas on Saturday.
The Golden Knights trailed 4-2 with two minutes remaining in regulation. Former Montreal captain, and now Vegas All-Star, Max Pacioretty scored the first goal against his former team at 18:02 of the third to make it 4-3.
Then, with time winding down and Marc-Andre Fleury pulled for the second attacker, Reilly Smith deflected a shot from Paul Stastny to tie it at 4-4 with 8.2 seconds remaining.
Marc-Andre Fleury made two incredible saves in overtime on a 28-stop night to get it to a shootout; the first was on a partial 2-on-0 to stop Ben Chiarot glove side.
And with 50 seconds remaining in the extra frame, Ilya Kovalchuk walked in on Fleury from the right side, only to be turned away by the double-pad stack from the goaltender with 458 wins under his belt.
But Fleury, who would’ve passed Henrik Lundqvist for sole possession of fifth place on the League’s all-time wins list with a victory, was denied that chance. Tatar, who was part of the trade to Montreal for Pacioretty in 2018, scored the winning goal in the fourth round. Tatar faked glove side, got Fleury out of position and went top shelf.
The fact the Golden Knights even got a point out of this game is miraculous. Vegas fell behind 3-0 after the first 20 minutes on nine Montreal shots. Nick Cousins scored the first of two goals at 5:51 to get the scoring started. Kovalchuk scored his fourth goal in eight games with Montreal at 12:33 to make it 2-0.
Both of those goals came via bad execution on defense.
And Exhibit B:
Not really sure what Nate Schmidt and Brayden McNabb are trying to accomplish there, but we’ll save that for another day.
Joel Armia was credited with Montreal’s third goal of the period, but it was due to Shea Theodore deflecting the shot from the point past Fleury. If you’re looking for the perfect way to sum up that frame, that’d be it.
The Golden Knights stormed back by getting into the blue paint. Jonathan Marchessault scored his fourth goal in six games, and first since returning to the lineup, at 9:08 to cut it to 3-1 off the no-look feed behind the net from Smith.
Stastny scored for the second consecutive game at 14:47 to make it 3-2.
Fireworks were aplenty, and this game may have had a different outcome had Cousins not scored at 9:40 of the third to make it a 4-2 game. It took one deflection from Tomas Nosek, out of the reach of Brayden McNabb, to turn it into a goal the other way.
Carey Price made 31 saves for Montreal, who needed this win to stay afloat in the Eastern Conference playoff race; the Canadiens (22-21-7) are seven points behind the Philadelphia Flyers for the second wild card.
Meanwhile, the Golden Knights (25-19-7) lost their first game under new coach Peter DeBoer and dropped to 0-1-3 against Montreal since trading for the former Canadiens captain. Pacioretty scored his 21st goal of the season, which leads the team.
“I thought we showed a lot of character,” DeBoer said. “That’s a big hole anywhere, particularly in this building. I don’t think it rattled us. They earned their goals. We had some opportunities, we didn’t execute. We could’ve had a couple, too.”
In all four of those games against Montreal, the Golden Knights played well enough to win. Two of them, especially the matchup on Halloween this season, should’ve resulted in wins for Vegas. Mistakes cost them, and that’s been the theme for the Golden Knights this season.
Vegas will play its final game, at the Boston Bruins, on Tuesday before heading off for the All-Star break. A win will give Vegas sole possession of first place in the Pacific Division, which is really an absurd thought given this current time frame with everything that’s happened this week.