In a season full of happy firsts, the Vegas Golden Knights on Saturday again experienced something new. But this time it wasn’t a joyful event: They lost a Stanley Cup playoff game for the first time.
San Jose forward Logan Couture scored a power-play goal five minutes and 13 seconds into the second sudden-death overtime period at a pulsating T-Mobile Arena, beating goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury high and to the short side to give the Sharks a 4-3 victory and tie the teams’ second-round playoff series at one game each.
Games 3 and 4 will be played in San Jose on Monday and Wednesday.
Vegas had swept the Kings out of the first round and routed San Jose 7-0 to launch this series, but San Jose recovered its poise and its solidity in the neutral zone to end Vegas’ postseason roll.
“We were better everywhere, tighter, better in every situation. I knew we would be,” Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said.
His Vegas counterpart, Gerard Gallant, is known as an easygoing bench boss but had some blistering words for his players after they squandered an early 2-0 lead and couldn’t capitalize on a surge in the first overtime period.
“They didn’t show up for 45 minutes tonight,” he said, adding that San Jose was the better team.
“We didn’t play our game. We weren’t fast. We weren’t quick. We were lethargic most of the night, and that’s on us.”
He also wasn’t happy with the power-play imbalance — Vegas had two, while the Sharks had seven — but was angrier about the needless high-sticking and hooking infractions committed by Shea Theodore and Jon Merrill, respectively, early in the second overtime. San Jose scored while Merrill was in the penalty box.
“It’s the two penalties in overtime that changed the game,” Gallant said.
Fleury made 43 saves and was helpless when Couture cleverly held on to the puck and rifled a shot just past the goalie’s stick. In the first overtime Fleury had made a point-blank stop on Barclay Goodrow after a giveaway by Theodore and then had the presence of mind to poke-check the puck away from Joe Pavelski as the San Jose center tried to go to his backhand.
A little later Fleury made a save on Timo Meier on which the puck popped up in the air and Fleury batted it with his stick and into his own glove. Even Fleury smiled at that, his white teeth gleaming through his mask while TV cameras focused on him during the ensuing stoppage.
An apparent goal by Golden Knights forward Jonathan Marchessault at 16:58 of the first overtime was waved off after a review initiated by the NHL’s Situation Room in Toronto determined Marchessault had made enough contact with San Jose goalie Martin Jones to prevent Jones from making the save.
That sparked a wave of social-media debate about a rule that the NHL has been inconsistent in interpreting and enforcing, but the debate didn’t change the no-goal call.
The Sharks deserved credit for responding strongly after having been flattened Thursday. They withstood a fortunate first goal by Vegas on Saturday, after a giveaway by Sharks defenseman Brent Burns, when a shot by Colin Miller caromed off the boards and came out to William Karlsson for a shot from a sharp angle at 17:59. Karlsson extended Vegas’ lead to 2-0 during the first shift of the second period, capitalizing after an errant clearing pass by Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic.
Yet, DeBoer wasn’t worried.
“We were down by two but our game was good,” he said.
The Sharks took advantage of a penalty on David Perron to cut Vegas’ lead to 2-1 on a shot by Burns that deflected past Fleury at the two-minute mark. The teams were skating four on four when Fleury mishandled the puck while trying to give it to one of his defensemen, and Couture made it 2-2 when his one-timer sailed into the upper-right corner of the net at 11:08.
San Jose needs Burns to be active and he was exactly that on the Sharks’ third goal, skating in from the right point and going behind the net before wrapping the puck inside the left post for a 3-2 lead at 14:07 of the second period.
The Golden Knights challenged the play, saying Fleury had been a victim of goaltender interference, but replays showed Vegas’ Miller had pushed Meier into the goalie.
The Golden Knights got a fortunate deflection to tie the game at 3-3 at 13:28 of the third period, when Nate Schmidt’s blast from the blue line, set up after Perron won a faceoff in San Jose’s defensive zone, deflected off a Shark before eluding Jones and bringing the teams even.
But then Couture gave the Sharks new life while giving the Golden Knights their first taste of playoff defeat and their first test of a so-far magical season.
Follow Helene Elliott on Twitter @helenenothelen