The game began with snowy mountain tops, crisp green trees, and a picturesque lake in the background.
It ended nearly 12 hours later in a blanket of darkness.
Hockey was played at a rink at Lake Tahoe, and the Vegas Golden Knights were a part of it. Whether they anticipated it being interrupted by this giant thing in the sky called the sun is another story.
It took 10 hours, 37 minutes for the hockey happenings to cease at Lake Tahoe, but the Golden Knights dropped their second consecutive game to the Colorado Avalanche, 3-2, on Saturday.
“It was a strange day,” said Golden Knights coach Pete DeBoer.
That’s putting it mildly.
The first outdoor game of this condensed season was postponed due to poor ice conditions. There was a 71-minute period during the first intermission — from the time the period ended, to when NHL commissioner Gary Bettman made the announcement — where there was serious unknown in the air.
Play resumed at 9 p.m. after a near-seven-hour intermission. The NHL needed to wait until nighttime, away from the natural beauty of the Sierra Nevada and bluest lake, to continue.
A giant fireball in the sky — not COVID-19 — postponed the first marquee regular-season event in Golden Knights history.
The Golden Knights treated the first period like it was a morning skate. They went back to the hotel and went about business as if they were preparing for a normal game night.
“Personally, I didn’t have my afternoon nap like I usually would for a 7 o’clock game,” said forward Alex Tuch. “It was probably because of the pre-workout and the coffees in me. You want to keep the same routine going into a game, no matter two periods, three periods, or five periods.”
The Avalanche took full advantage of the soft ice in the first period. Samuel Girard, fresh off of COVID protocol, scored 2:58 in to give Colorado a 1-0 lead. It wasn’t anything special; no deflection, no crashing the net. It was a bouncing puck that Marc-Andre Fleury had trouble corralling.
Colorado makes its money with skating and speed. Given the ice conditions, that played into the Avs’ favor. They outshot Vegas 17-8 in the first period and out-attempted the Golden Knights 12-2 in the first nine minutes.
Both teams felt they could’ve continued.
“They did the best they could,” said defenseman Alec Martinez, “just the sun was beating down on it too much.”
The elements in this game are tailor-made for those who can skate and do it better than most.
That’s the perfect setting for Nathan MacKinnon.
It took less than four minutes — from Martinez’s tying goal at 7:37 of the second — for MacKinnon to leave his mark.
During a 4-on-4, MacKinnon took the puck away from Mark Stone, tossed it to Devon Toews, and gathered it back himself. MacKinnon, equipped with his gazelle-like skating abilities, sprinted down the right side with Alex Pietrangelo in front. MacKinnon ripped a wrist shot from the right circle and beat Fleury far side over his right shoulder for a 2-1 lead at 11:18.
What’s Pietrangelo thinking as Colorado’s 29 is coming down the ice? “Oh boy.”
Fleury had another valiant effort in his sixth consecutive start, making 36 saves. The 39 shots he saw were the most the Golden Knights have allowed this season, including the 17 from the first period.
Vegas fell behind the 8-ball early because of Colorado’s speed and skating ability. While the Golden Knights have, for all intents and purposes, played Colorado evenly enough to lose back-to-back one-goal games, it wouldn’t be that way had it not been for Fleury’s performance.
Despite playing a better 40 minutes, the Golden Knights couldn’t figure out Philipp Grubauer (27 saves) for a third consecutive game.
“I didn’t like how we played,” DeBoer said. “I thought we reset and played two pretty hard periods. We were chasing the game right from the drop of the puck this morning.”
It’s more than fair to call the first period a squash given the hoopla.
As mentioned Thursday, the beauty of Lake Tahoe would not mask the important two points on the line. The first period wound up being the Achilles’ heel, no matter the conditions.
The Golden Knights have an opportunity to split this series and maintain their hold at the top of the West Division. The series shifts to Ball Arena in Denver on Monday.
It’s an experience the Golden Knights have longed for and will never forget, in more ways than one.
“It was a little nerve-racking at first, but it was exciting,” said forward Alex Tuch. “It wasn’t our best start, but I had a lot of fun tonight, and it’s something I’ll never forget.”