There aren’t many ‘what ifs’ surrounding the Vegas Golden Knights.
Then you see Oscar Dansk win a game Friday night, and that prompts one of them.
To be fair, you could say that a lot about the Golden Knights’ goalie situation in the inaugural campaign. Does Marc-Andre Fleury win the Vezina that year if he’s not concussed? Does Malcolm Subban establish himself as the goalie of the future if he doesn’t get hurt?
Are Dansk and Max Lagace even things? Does Dylan Ferguson make a save on Connor McDavid in an actual NHL game?
The butterfly effect never lies, or something.
“I know it’s been a while since I’ve played in this league. I don’t expect it to be a perfect game, and it rarely is,” said Dansk, who made his first start since Oct. 21, 2019 on Friday.
To think of how far Dansk has come since that first year is miraculous. Dansk won his first game in almost four years on Friday, a 5-4 overtime victory against the San Jose Sharks.
Much of the talk will be on how close Dansk gave the game away with his misplay of the puck on Kevin Labanc’s goal with 1:07 remaining.
I don't even think 'unlucky' is the word here. Sharks are a minute from stealing a point. pic.twitter.com/E1vpTseh8n
— Danny Webster (@DannyWebster21) March 6, 2021
“You’re going to face challenges, and that was a challenge in of itself,” Dansk said. “I just had to own up to it, and go play again. There’s no other option. The guys have each other’s backs out there. It’s fun to be a part of.”
But then you see Dansk making saves like this one on Patrick Marleau with 3:16 remaining, up 4-3, and you’re reminded of that Year 1 play for a moment.
— Danny Webster (@DannyWebster21) March 6, 2021
“Oscar’s been a guy where a lot has been asked of him to come in,” said Max Pacioretty, who scored the overtime winner on Friday. “He’s always one of the most upbeat guys in practice, working really hard, so it’s nice for him to get the win. Guys like that, you want to win for.”
It was Dansk’s first win since Oct. 27, 2017, that 7-0 win over Colorado for the first shutout in franchise history. You probably forgot that bit of trivia because three-plus years feels like 30 at this rate.
Call it lightning in a bottle if you want; Dansk’s play was capturing hearts and minds of everyone who dreamed to be the No. 3 goalie on an expansion team.
Think back to even before that shutout; how he came in cold on Oct. 21, 2017 to make his NHL debut against the St. Louis Blues in a 2-1 game. How the third goalie of a 3-week-old franchise allowed only one goal on 11 shots and got his first NHL victory in overtime.
Or when, in his first NHL start three nights later, Dansk made 29 saves against the then-powerhouse Chicago Blackhawks. In front of a sold-out crowd at T-Mobile Arena that had more Blackhawks fans than Golden Knights goers that night, Dansk shocked the hockey world that night.
Then Dansk has a lower-body injury Halloween Eve 2017 at Madison Square Garden, ending a promising run.
“It’s been ever since Year 1. Whenever he’s been needed, he’s come up and he’s done a really good job,” said forward Alex Tuch. “He’s put in the extra work, he’s giving us extra shots after practice. I’ve seen an intense amount of professionalism out of Oscar Dansk.”
Fast forward to Friday, in his first start in over a year, in a season unlike any we’ve ever seen, Dansk got his shot. The four goals allowed won’t look great on the scoresheet, but it’s hard to blame him on the first three.
He didn’t see a lot of dangerous chances (stopped five of six high-danger looks). Yet on a night where Marc-Andre Fleury needed rest after starting the previous 10 games, he did his job, and did it admirably.
“First guy on the ice every day, stays as long as you want to, working with whoever needs the extra work, never complains, great teammate,” said coach Pete DeBoer. “I think the guys wanted to play hard for him and find a way to get a win for him.”
We talked here the other day about the Golden Knights needing to dip into the goalie depth for as long as Robin Lehner is out. With Lehner on long-term injured reserve retroactive to Feb. 11, that might be sooner rather than later.
Friday wasn’t a perfect night for Dansk, nor did he expect it to be. He had just finished a three-game sweep of the San Diego Gulls with the Henderson Silver Knights just a week ago. Normally the AHL starter with Lehner healthy, Dansk assumed his post and played well in those minor-league contests.
Who knows if Dansk gets another start with the big club? With Lehner expected back before the end of the road trip, it’s likely back to the No. 3 post he’s been at, or more time with the Silver Knights.
For one night, Dansk’s teammates were rewarding him for paying his time. And that’s worthy of a fistbump.