MONTREAL — Marc-Andre Fleury was so upbeat, the Vegas goalie laughed off a question about his costly late-game flub.
The Golden Knights might be well-served to do the same after finding themselves in the all too familiar position of facing adversity during a postseason run in which they’ve now trailed in all three series.
“It’s part of the game, having to talk to you guys and being reminded of my screwups, right?” Fleury said with an audible giggle in referring to the media on Saturday, some 12 hours after a 3-2 overtime loss to the Montreal Canadiens. “Obviously, I wish things were different. But it is what it is, and got to put it behind and get ready for our next game.”
Game 4 of this Stanley Cup semifinal is Sunday night at Montreal, with Vegas down 2-1 after losing two straight.
The 36-year-old Fleury did his best to move on after his misplaying of the puck along the end boards led to Montreal’s Josh Anderson scoring into an unguarded net to tie the game with 1:55 remaining. Anderson then capped the win by converting Paul Byron’s pass on a 2-on-1 break 12:53 into overtime.
Much of the focus was on Fleury’s miscue — “I’ve got to see the replay again, but I don’t know if (the puck) spins off my stick or my foot,” he said.
And yet, there were many factors beyond goaltending contributing to the outcome. Vegas scored just twice despite outshooting the Canadiens 30-8 through two periods and 45-27 overall, and it’s power play continued fizzling. In going 0 of 4 on the man advantage, the Golden Knights have converted just 4 of 38 power-play chances in 16 postseason games.
“There’s a lot of problems. I just don’t think you just pinpoint one,” Reilly Smith said of the power-play concerns. “There’s a lot of things we have to get better at, and it’s costing us the series right now.”
Topping the list of challenges might be the issue of beating Carey Price. After giving up four goals on 30 shots in a series-opening 4-1 loss, the Canadiens goalie has allowed just four on the next 76 he’s faced.
Price’s puck-smothering prominence and calm demeanor in the crease has given rise to the Canadiens’ growing confidence. The lowest-seeded team entering the playoffs, Montreal has won nine of 10 since trailing Toronto 3-1 in the first round.
“I think our confidence has always been there,” forward Eric Staal said. “Obviously, the shots were not where we wanted after the end of the second period. But we were still in the game. Carey has been our best player all playoff long.”
Montreal is also no stranger to adversity, be it overcoming injuries or shedding the label of underdogs. On Friday, the Canadiens didn’t flinch after learning they would be without interim coach Dominique Ducharme, who was placed in quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19, leaving assistant Luke Richardson to take over behind the bench.
Richardson had no update on Ducharme’s status. He said the coach has remained in contact with the team through video chats and by phone, including provided tips to his staff between periods on Friday.
“He’s missing being with us, and we missing having him,” Richardson said.
Coach Peter DeBoer took exception to the notion of the Golden Knights making things difficult on themselves once again in the playoffs.
“Hah, difficult on ourselves?” DeBoer said, mockingly. “I don’t know who out there feels that we should be winning these series easily. This is hard.”
What’s difficult to dismiss is how the Golden Knights opened the playoffs needing to win Game 7 over Minnesota after squandering a 3-1 series lead. They lost the the first two games to Colorado before winning the next four to eliminate the President’s Trophy-winners.
Slow starts have been an issue, with Vegas scoring the first goal just six times in 16 games. And the team is 2-4 in games decided by one goal.
Now the Golden Knights face the challenge of putting behind a potentially demoralizing outing in which they squandered two one-goal leads.
“I don’t think there’s any emotional damage,” captain Mark Stone said, following the loss. “We liked the way we played today. We played a great 60 minutes. We have to capitalize on our scoring chances.”
Fleury is accustomed to bouncing back over a career in which his 161 playoffs appearances are tied with Ed Belfour for third on the NHL list.
“This series is still young, and there’s a lot of hockey to be played so can’t dwell on it too long,” Fleury said. “Just move on and get ready for tomorrow.”
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