Although the Vegas Golden Knights have only been in the NHL since their inaugural 2017-2018 season, they’ve already got that one team that lives in their nightmares, shaking them awake at night and out of playoff contention on the ice.
With no context, the San Jose Sharks 5-4 shootout win against Vegas on Sunday just looks like another close hockey game — but it carried much more weight. No matter the Golden Knights lead, the Sharks always seemed to find a way to swim back. This was especially true in the two groups’ 2019 playoffs first round series too.
San Jose was down three games to one in the series against a confident Vegas squad that punched its ticket to the Stanley Cup Finals the year prior. All the Knights had to do was put together a solid 60-minutes of hockey to clinch the series, but the Sharks rewrote the script.
Following a Game 5 victory and a double-overtime win in Game 6, San Jose forced a Game 7 on home ice at the SAP Center with a crowd full of fans ready to complete a comeback story. However, down 3-0 with just over 10 minutes left in the third, redemption seemed unlikely.
It wasn’t until Vegas center Cody Eakin was dealt a five-minute major and game ejection for a nasty high-sticking play off a faceoff that sent beloved Sharks center Joe Pavelski to the locker room bleeding. The sequence was rattling for players and fans alike and it sparked a fire on the San Jose bench.
In those five minutes on the power play, the Sharks netted four goals, claiming a 4-3 lead and electrifying the entire arena. Vegas tied the game with less than a minute on the clock, pushing the series finale into overtime but San Jose still had a fight left in them.
Center Barclay Goodrow was the overtime hero with the game-winning goal, which he tucked behind Marc-André Fleury’s right pad to eliminate Vegas from the postseason and tie the bow on one of the best NHL games in recent memory.
Flash forward to the 2021-2022 campaign and the narrative still holds strong. The Sharks are far out of playoff positioning, and the Golden Knights sat just three points out of a wild card spot with three games left on the schedule heading into Sunday’s game.
A victory would’ve brought Vegas within one regulation win of tying the Dallas Stars for the second wild card — but the Sharks played spoilers just like they know how to do best.
Paralleling the 2019 Game 7 comeback, Vegas was skating with a 4-2 lead up until 17:54 in the third period when the Sharks lit the lamp twice in the final two minutes and six seconds. Right wing Timo Meier knotted the competition at 4-4 on the doorstep with 0.9 seconds left.
Forcing overtime, the Sharks would steal an important point from a desperate Vegas group flailing for a boost in the standings. A shootout soon determined who would collect the remaining point up for grabs and it was 20-year-old Thomas Bordeleau, in his fifth NHL game, who sealed the deal on the backhand for San Jose. What a night for the rookie.
The loss is detrimental to the Golden Knights, who were unable to close a game with a two goal lead and two minutes to play. It was an inexcusable breakdown to have this far into the season with stakes that high for Vegas.
For San Jose, it’s the classic story of a team with nothing to lose wreaking havoc on league rivals — and from a fan that has little connection to either team, I love to see it.