The biggest moment of the Golden Knights’ 7-3 win over the Calgary Flames Wednesday night didn’t happen on the ice, but in the bowels of T-Mobile Arena.
In a small room, behind the locker room and underneath the 18,012 fans in attendance, Golden Knights’ video coach Tommy Cruz sits in front of multiple screens analyzing every play as it happens.
A little over a minute into the third period, Flames’ leading scorer Sean Monahan scored to tie the game 4-4, but Cruz noticed seconds earlier Monahan entered the offensive zone a fraction of a second before the puck, making the play offsides.
He quickly communicated it to assistant coach Mike Kelly, who alerted Gerard Gallant on the bench. Gallant challenged the call and it was eventually overturned, resulting in an eruption of cheers from the Golden Knights’ faithful.
Cruz has only about 30 seconds after a goal is scored to determine if Gallant should challenge it, so he must be quick. He also has to be accurate, as an incorrect challenge on an offsides play results in a two-minute penalty.
“(Cruz) was confident about it and he knows the rules better than I do apparently because I wouldn’t have called it,” forward Alex Tuch said. “I think that was a big turning point, and we owe part of the win to him.”
Instead of tying the game, Calgary watched the goal get wiped off the board and then surrendered a goal to Luca Sbisa less than two minutes later to extend Vegas’ lead to two. The Golden Knights used the momentum to score two more goals for a comfortable 7-3 lead.
“That was a huge part of the game,” Gallant said. “When I was watching the play I thought they were onside and had no issue with it, then all of a sudden Tommy talks to Mike Kelly on the headset and says it's offside. It’s definitely a momentum swing when you think you tied the game up and we were fortunate to go up by two goals after that.”
The play was extremely close, with Monahan’s skate blade lifting off the ice just milliseconds before the puck crossed the blue line.
“Tonight was the toughest one by far,” Gallant said. “It was a close, tough call tonight and that situation was real tough.”
The players had no idea the play was offsides, but watched replays on TVs in the floor behind the bench while anxiously awaiting the ruling.
“I was pretty nervous,” Tuch said. “I was going to offer myself to go in the (penalty) box. That was a big turning point. If it’s 4-4 it’s a whole different game.”
If the Golden Knights lost the challenge, Calgary would have tied the game and went on a power play.
“Pardon my French but that was a ballsy call,” Tuch laughed.
And it’s the second game in a row in which Cruz has erased a goal with a successful challenge. Gallant won an offsides challenge in Monday night’s 2-0 loss to Anaheim.
“I owe him dinner,” Fleury said. “That’s two goals he’s pulled back for me in the last two games. He has a tough job back there in front of the computer and a bunch of TVs and that was a big call.”
Prior to the play the teams had traded goals, with the Golden Knights taking the lead four different times only for Calgary to tie it each time. Then Cruz delivered the knockout blow, without even stepping on the ice.
“Our boy Tommy Cruz in that little bunker,” Sbisa said. “He does a great job and I think that’s two nights in a row that he’s come up with a big call. If you’re on the other side of that you can get mad, but for us tonight it was huge.”