Perseverance. Resilience. Tenacity.
These are the unquantifiable traits every hockey team through the history of time claim to possess yet precious few get an opportunity to prove.
The Vegas Golden Knights will get an opportunity to prove they possess such qualities at 7 p.m. Tuesday night at the SAP Center in San Jose. They’ll get an opportunity because they blew their first-round Stanley Cup playoff lead in one of the most debilitating ways possible in a 2-1 double-overtime Game 6 loss to the San Jose Sharks Sunday night at T-Mobile Arena.
A 3-1 series advantage became a 3-3 deadlock after Vegas squandered a litany of chances to create the forthcoming one-off, winner-take-all contest.
“Game 7, that’s fun,” center Cody Eakin said. “That’s hockey. We’ll be playing the same way. A game like that, it’s one good bounce.”
Only several bounces — probably felt like hundreds to the 18,458 fans in attendance — that all seemed to fall against the Golden Knights determined Game 6. They had three power plays, 23 takeaways and 111 Corsi — a measure of total shots — with virtually nothing to show for it.
A much more minuscule number of mistakes — defensive miscues by Deryk Engelland and Shea Theodore that led to a couple of uncharacteristic misplayed pucks by goalie Marc-Andre Fleury — were ultimately the difference in a Sharks’ victory that the statistics paint as a minor Easter miracle.
For those who abide by the gospel of concepts like series momentum, Vegas is damned. Luckily for Golden Knights’ fans, those factors tend to be overstated.
But anyone searching for solace in the locker room came up empty. The Golden Knights appeared shell-shocked.
Denial was a more prevalent attitude than determination. There were no steely proclamations of resolve like last year when Jonathan Marchessault, who scored the Golden Knights’ lone goal on Sunday, made a pseudo-guarantee after a Game 1 loss in the Western Conference finals.
“It’s whatever,” Marchessault said this time around. “We’re a confident hockey team. We just have to keep going and stick with it. I think if we keep playing the right way like we did tonight, we’ll get rewarded.”
Engelland, an alternate captain, also expressed assurance but only after admitting he would, “rather be done,” with the series.
And if instilling composure comes from the top down for a team, then there were more postgame alarm bells. Vegas Coach Gerard Gallant was curt and chastised a reporter for an innocent question asking how he felt Fleury played.
“Serious?” Gallant asked. “You watched the game? He was great.”
Fleury, who had 27 saves, was fine but there was no doubt that the pair of Sharks’ goals weren’t shots he would typically allow to get past him. Both center Logan Couture in the final seconds of the first period and center Tomas Hertl shorthanded in the second overtime beat Fleury with routine wristers.
San Jose goalie Martin Jones, who had a postseason franchise record 58 saves, outplayed Fleury.
Of course, that’s a borderline unexplainable phenomenon in its own right after San Jose coach Pete DeBoer had to pull Jones out after one period in the previous series meeting at T-Mobile Arena. That came a game after DeBoer took it a step further than Gallant and ended his media conference prematurely when asked how he thought his team handled their emotions.
The real answer? Poorly.
San Jose lost its temper in Game 3 and was left all but buried in Game 4 after Evander Kane and Timo Meier enacted a late procession of game-misconduct penalties. The Sharks forgoing their chippiness to forge their way back into the series felt like a long shot back then.
But that’s what they’ve done in winning the last two games by a combined score of 7-3 behind a stabilized Jones. Their comeback serves as a warning not to place too much stock in the ever-present momentum- and motivation-based narratives.
The intangible that may actually matter is the players’ mentality and fortitude when adversity is stacked against them. By staving off elimination in back-to-back games, the Sharks have proven their persistence.
Now it’s the Golden Knights’ turn to do the same with their season on the line.
“That’s what you train all summer and all season for — games like this,” Engelland said.
“I think guys will be ready to go.”