SUNRISE, FLA — Three times before, the Vegas Golden Knights had late leads slip away when their opponent pulled the goalie. The Golden Knights lost Game 3 in that way when Matthew Tkachuk scored the tying goal, and Florida won in OT.
The final minute of Game 4 was pure chaos, and anyone whose heart wasn’t beating just a little harder wasn’t watching.
The Golden Knights won 3-2 at FLA Live Arena for a 3-1 series lead. Get the Golden Knights recap here.
VGK defenseman Alex Pietrangelo took a penalty with 17 seconds remaining — a delay of game penalty when he swatted a puck over the glass — and the palms got sweaty on the Golden Knights bench. And certainly in the penalty box, too.
Pietrangelo could laugh about the penalty because it did not cost the Golden Knights. With the extra attacker and Pietrangelo in the box, he was going through emotions from anger and anxiety to hope.
Pietrangelo jokingly chided the third reporter who asked about his emotions sitting in the penalty box during that wild scramble.
“Geez, c’mon guys! I know!”
The Golden Knights on the ice didn’t have much time to think. Florida sent everyone to the net in a wild final scramble to tie the game and avoid facing an unceremonious end to their season Tuesday.
“At the end, no, I wasn’t thinking, ‘Here we go again.’ I mean, we just went through it,” said coach Bruce Cassidy. “One thing our team does well is they respond to some adversity or whatever hasn’t gone well. We found a way to keep it out of our net, and I don’t know that they had any Grade A’s. I mean, they threw a few toward the net. I thought we did a good job clearing them.”
The Golden Knights were ruthlessly efficient, especially in the second period. They thoroughly dominated the Panthers. According to NaturalStatTrick, the scoring chances were 16-4. The Golden Knights scored a pair of goals but gave up a fluky late goal that took two sharp turns after caroming off a pair of Golden Knights players.
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The Golden Knights defenseman watched helplessly from the penalty box as Florida sent everyone to the net in one final desperation chance to get the tying goal.
“It sucks. It’s a sh*tty way to take a penalty, though. It’s just … bad ice out there. It just is what it is,” said Pietrangelo. “But again, sometimes guys got to dig a little deeper and kill the 17 seconds, so you got to be proud of that effort.”
The Vegas Golden Knights bench boss has done a masterful job throughout the Stanley Cup playoffs keeping his team focused and in the moment. Not many picked them to beat the Edmonton Oilers, but they showed killer instinct, winning Games 5 and 6. They flexed their muscles after a couple of bad games against the Dallas Stars in the Western Conference Final, leaving no doubt about the better team in Game 6.
And Saturday, the Golden Knights nearly put the dagger in the Panthers with resounding domination in the second period. If not for a wild goal that took a sharp left turn, then a sharp right turn after it hit a pair of Golden Knights 20 feet apart, the Golden Knights would have had a three-goal lead after the first 40 minutes and complete control.
The hockey gods had other ideas, and the Golden Knights had to confront the very issue that has given them trouble.
For his part, Cassidy and assistant coach Jon Stevens focused on that very situation so their team would be prepared to face the extra attacker.
Cassidy also made a big deal of giving his team a day off Friday to spend time away from the rink. They didn’t practice, didn’t work out, and they didn’t watch video. They unplugged.
The move seemed to work.
“We got away from the rink, I think helped us, and once the game was going, I think we knew what was at stake. We have an opportunity to come up here and get one game closer. (Game 3) slipped away, and we felt it slipped away. We thought we were the better team and played better, but we didn’t get the win,” Cassidy said. “So let’s get out and do even better. And that’s what we were. I thought we were really good … Did I feel the energy this morning? I can’t say I did, I’d be lying to you. But I know my team now that I know that today was a day I thought we would be very good.”
The positive momentum Florida gained with the comeback win in Game 3, or the negative momentum the Golden Knights felt, was erased by the day off.
Cassidy also talked about those final 17 seconds.
“Yeah, felt like 17 minutes,” he said.