You can’t make mistakes against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
One, or two, can lead to a long night. Combine that with playing the reigning Vezina Trophy winner — a guy who came in on a 15-game point streak — and anything short of a win is one giant dud.
The Vegas Golden Knights played more than well enough to defeat the Lightning on a night where points have become the utmost importance. That’s been a common theme for Vegas, which lost 4-2 to the Lightning at Amalie Arena on Tuesday.
If you showed this box score to someone who didn’t watch the game, you’d think the team that outshot the other 29-18 won. If you told that same person that Corsi tilted in favor of that same team, 43-29, you’d think they won also. And if you told that same person that Team A held Team B to a total of three high-danger chances ... you get the picture.
None of that happened. The Golden Knights were Team A, and lost this game. Marc-Andre Fleury allowed three goals on 17 shots; the Golden Knights’ defense arguably played a better 60 minutes than they did Saturday at Nashville. Vegas allowed a total of four shots from Tampa’s top line — Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, and Brayden Point.
Two of Tampa’s four goals came from that top line.
Point scored the game’s first goal at 10:57 after Vegas failed to clear the puck. A bouncing puck found Kucherov, who found Point all alone in the slot.
Stamkos’ goal was the winning tally at 10:36 of the third period, seven minutes after a toothless Paul Stastny scored the tying goal at 3:47, making it 2-2.
Vegas failed to clear the puck again, and the bouncing puck found Point in the slot. All he had to do was throw it at the net, with Stamkos being the only one testing Fleury. If you want to see five Golden Knights skaters look dumbfounded, here you go.
In hindsight, Vegas has played well in the six games since Peter DeBoer became the head coach Jan. 15. If this was a team out of the Stanley Cup Playoff race, going 3-2-1 heading into Thursday’s matchup with the Florida Panthers would seem ideal. That’s not the case for the Golden Knights right now. Points are crucial.
But with losses to Tampa and Boston, in games they should’ve won (especially on the road), the Golden Knights missed an opportunity to gain some ground on the Vancouver Canucks in the Pacific Division; Boston recorded a 4-0 shutout against Vancouver at TD Garden tonight. Until the smorgasbord that is the Pacific rounds out into form, Vegas can’t afford to let points go to waste like this.
This will be the theme for the Golden Knights for the remainder of the season. Whether unfair or not, that’s the reality. Every win will be analyzed as a crucial victory, and every loss will be seen as a blown opportunity. Tuesday was a blown opportunity for the Golden Knights.
If Max Pacioretty doesn’t miss this wide-open net in the first period, what happens?
If Brayden McNabb scores instead of hitting the crossbar, what happens?
Two completely diluted what-ifs, but this is the territory the Golden Knights find themselves in. That’s how great they played tonight against a team that is going to challenge for the top seed in the Eastern Conference once again when the season ends. The loss wasted a goal from William Carrier, which was started by a great zone entry from Cody goddamn Eakin, and Zach Whitecloud played another strong game after being called up from AHL Chicago.
The Golden Knights close this long road trip Thursday at the Panthers, who might be without captain Aleksander Barkov for the game.
Much like tonight, it’s a game the Golden Knights need to win. Coming up short won’t be an option.
Until then, don’t go too crazy, you caged animals.