It was an epic that would make The Odyssey blush, the kind of game that’s worth it in the end for the winning team. For the losing team, it’s a major disappointment regardless of the circumstances.
Lose on a short-handed goal in double overtime, however, and it could be a soul-crusher.
The Golden Knights succumbed to that fate in a 2-1 defeat to the San Jose Sharks in Game 6 of the teams’ first-round Stanley Cup playoff series Sunday night at T-Mobile Arena. They commanded every facet of the game with the ice appearing tilted towards the Sharks’ net and a power play in double overtime looking like the crack would finally break the dam.
Instead, Tomas Hertl, who told a jubilant San Jose crowd after Game 5 that the team would be back for a Game 7, made good on his promise, scoring short-handed more than 90 minutes into the game. It was the first short-handed game-winner in multiple overtimes in NHL playoff history and sent the series to a decisive Game 7 scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday at the SAP Center in San Jose.
“From the start to finish we had the puck a lot and dominated, so obviously this one is frustrating to lose,” goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said. “It sucks tonight, but tomorrow is a new day, we got to get up. That’s what playoffs are about.”
The Golden Knights outshot the Sharks 59-29. They had more shot attempts, 119-69. They had more scoring chances, more power plays, more hits, more faceoff wins, more takeaways and more of just about everything else.
But the Sharks had more goals, and Jonathan Marchessault’s tally at 11:20 of the second period was all Vegas mustered. The Sharks opened the scoring on a Logan Couture low wrister as time was running out in the first period, then Hertl’s shot in double overtime sent the game back to San Jose.
“The last goal, the only reason it went in was (defenseman Shea) Theodore slashed the stick,” coach Gerard Gallant said. “You tell your defenseman to play the guy’s stick. You blame the last goal on Fleury, shake your head.”
The Golden Knights faced Martin Jones at his best. The Sharks goalie, who was pulled before the second period of two games this series, turned away 58 shots, a franchise record for a playoff game. The man who in Games 2, 3 and 4 had a .796 save percentage and 7.62 goals-against average has allowed one even-strength goal in two games since and posted a .967 save percentage.
The Golden Knights were the better team by almost any measure, a fact not lost on the players in the room. Gallant said he wouldn’t change anything about the game but the final score and the team echoed the thought that there were plenty of positives takeaways.
“One bounce was the difference,” forward Cody Eakin said. “One of those was bound to go in eventually. Keep plugging away at those and get to the blue point and we’ll get rewarded for it.”
Now the Golden Knights face more than the physical challenge of trying to beat the Sharks in San Jose in Tuesday. They also have the added stress of knowing in the back of their minds that they held a 3-1 lead in the series before a bitter overtime defeat.
The exhaustion of skating nearly two full games of hockey on Sunday night will take its toll on both teams. But the Sharks could be rejuvenated going home for a winner-take-all home game. It’s up to the Golden Knights to make sure that they can put the previous two games behind them and take care of business in the first Game 7 in team history.
“I’d rather be done, that’s for sure,” defenseman Deryk Engelland said. “That’s what you play for, those huge games, huge moments. We just have to regroup and be ready for the next game.”