The final stats showed Marc-Andre Fleury with 31 saves in the Vegas Golden Knights’ 4-2 win Tuesday night over Toronto. Several of them were spectacular.
But there was one that was stupendous, and it allowed the Knights to remain in front late in the third period as the Maple Leafs were pressing hard to tie the game.
Nic Petan was left alone to the right of the Vegas net and he sent a backhand shot that appeared ticketed for the upper corner. But here came Fleury, diving to his left, extending his left arm and snatching the puck out of the air with his trapper glove just before it crossed the goal line to keep the Knights ahead 3-2 with 3:43 to play.
The Knights then had to kill a penalty, then play 6-on-5 in the final 1:16 as Toronto pulled its goalie, Frederik Andersen, for an extra attacker.
But unlike earlier in the month when they squandered third-period leads, they held firm in this one and got the win over a Toronto team which is struggling at the moment, having dropped its sixth in a row.
In Fleury’s NHL career, he has stopped 21,147 shots. You’d be hard pressed to find a better save than the one he made on Petan, who will no doubt have nightmares the rest of his career on the goal that never was.
Certainly the 18,292 who were in T-Mobile Arena will never forget it.
“I thought I could get to it,” Fleury said of the stop that made highlight reels across North America Thursday night. “As a goalie, those are the saves that make you feel like a player like you scored a goal. I’m just happy it didn’t go in.”
Some wiil say it rivaled or surpassed the save Fleury made against Detroit in the 2009 Stanley Cup Final to give the Pittsburgh Penguins the title.
The coach that night? Mike Babcock, who was behind the bench Thursday for the Leafs.
Fleury was humble in his assessment of the save, saying, “I don’t think (Petan) shot it as hard as he wanted to. I had more time to react on it,”
Knights coach Gerard Gallant said of his goaltender: “He’s pretty incredible when he makes those kind of saves. He’s acrobatic and as a coach, you expect those kind of saves from him.
“I thought that it was a goal. But that’s Marc. He never gives up on a play.”
The Knights (11-9-3, 25 points) took a 1-0 lead into the third period on Cody Glass’ second-period power play goal. But the Leafs pulled even 7:26 in as Jason Spezza beat Fleury. However, Vegas regained the lead 42 seconds later as Tomas Nosek jumped on a loose puck in the Toronto zone, walked in and beat Anderson with a nifty backhander.
For Nosek, it was a bit of retribution after he had flubbed a breakaway earlier in the game. And when Mark Stone made it 3-1 two minutes later on the power play, the Knights appeared to be in good shape.
But this is a team that had struggled to put games away. And when Zach Hyman cut it to 3-2 with a power play goal of his own with 7:13 remaining, there was an unsettled feeling inside the rink.
The Leafs had three other Grade-A chances to tie it as John Tavares and William Nylander had great looks only to be turned away by Fleury.
But no one will remember those stops. Everyone will remember the glove save on Petan’s backhander. It will go down in the team’s lore and be part of the Knights’ history long after Fleury hangs up his pads.
It helped Fleury to earn his 450th career victory as Cody Eakin sealed the win on an empty-net goal with 20.3 seconds remaining. It was the second straight game Eakin has scored after going goal-less over his first 17 games this season.
“It’s pretty cool,” Fleury said of reaching the milestone. “You guys keep reminding me of where I’m at.”