Something felt eerily similar to the 18,276 Golden Knights fans in the third period Saturday at T-Mobile Arena.
Their team was in control, holding a two-goal lead. But a penalty led to a goal for their opponent and eventually, the lead would be gone and the Knights would fall in overtime.
The Winnipeg Jets took advantage of the penalty and also of a missed icing call to eventually tie the game and win it in OT as Kyle Connor scored with 1:38 left to give Winnipeg a 4-3 decision.
“We’ve got to be better,” said defenseman Nate Schmidt, who scored in the first period for his first of the year and was involved in the controversial missed offsides call. “We can’t lay back and let the other team come at us.”
Coach Gerard Gallant felt the same way.
“There’s a couple games now that we’ve backed off, so we need to be more aggressive,” he said. “We talk about it all the time, when our forecheck is good and our defensive is aggressive on the forecheck, we’re a good team. When our backcheck isn’t as good then our defensemen are back all the time, it’s not going to work. You don’t win in this league doing that.”
The Knights (8-5-2, 18 points) may have lost more than a game Saturday as they could be without forward Alex Tuch again.
Tuch, who had missed the first 13 games of the season with an upper-body injury, returned to the lineup Thursday and scored in the Knights’ 5-4 overtime loss to Montreal. Saturday, he took a shoulder to the head in the corner from Winnipeg’s Adam Lowry 2:08 into the second period and crumbled to the ice.
Tuch stayed down for a few seconds, but eventually gathered his bearings and skated off on his own. He went directly to the dressing room and did not return.
“I didn’t like the hit,” Gallant said. “I thought it should have been a major penalty.”
The Knights were none too happy about the play. On the ensuing faceoff, Ryan Reaves challenged Lowry to a fight and while Lowry held his own, the fact Reaves was sticking up for his teammate was not lost on the Knights.
The Knights were also without Marc-Andre Fleury as the goalie was home with the flu. Malcolm Subban started for the second time this season and surrendered an early goal to Mathieu Perreault 2:19 in. But Subban quickly settled down, Jonathan Marchessault tied it 2:32 later and was followed by goals from Max Pacioretty and Nate Schmidt to give Vegas a 3-1 lead.
It stayed that way until the third period. Despite surrendering the power play goal to Perreault (his second of the night), the Knights were still holding the lead. Winnipeg looked to press and the Jets dumped the puck into the Vegas end with under seven minutes to play.
Schmidt was the first player to the goal line and it should have resulted in an icing call, which would have brought the face-off back in the Winnipeg end. Instead, linesman Ryan Gibbons wave off the icing after initially holding his arm up to indicate the play was dead.
Schmidt lost his balance and crashed into the end boards, Connor retrieved the puck as play continued and fed Mark Scheifele in front, who put the puck past Subban.
The Knights complained that the goal shouldn’t have counted, but to no avail. And despite the blown call, Gallant wasn’t making any excuses.
“There are a lot of new rules and there are tough calls to be made every night,” he said. “I’m not going to blame the referees for this game. I’m going to blame the way we played the last 25 minutes of the hockey game. If they wouldn’t have scored there, they probably would have scored somewhere else because we didn’t play our game. We backed off, we were too loose and I’m disappointed.
“I think the call was wrong, but that wasn’t the reason why we lost.”
For the Knights, the real disappointment lies with the record for the four-game homestand — 1-1-2. Now the team embarks upon a four-game road trip which begins Tuesday in Columbus. And they may not have Tuch, which will make it even tougher.