LAS VEGAS - Marc-Andre Fleury has enjoyed many big moments during his decorated NHL career.
This one might have been the most emotional.
Fleury made 28 saves and the Vegas Golden Knights beat the Chicago Blackhawks 5-1 on Tuesday night in their goaltender’s first game since the death of his father, André.
“I got to think about him a bunch,” Fleury said afterward, doing his best to keep his emotions in check. “I tried to keep (the pregame routine) the same. I’ve been doing this for a while, none of that changed too much. But, it’s definitely more emotional.”
The 16-year veteran, the only son to André and France Fleury, hadn’t started since a 4-2 loss to Edmonton on Nov. 23.
Fleury said he felt the energy before the opening puck drop, when public address announcer Bruce Cusick introduced him to a crowd of 18,319 that gave Fleury a bit more than the typical ovation he’s used to.
“I was away for a while. It’s always nice to get that feeling when I get back on the ice,” said Fleury, who improved to 11-6-5 against Chicago and 69-38-13 in December. “The first game, always a little worried to see how things are going to go, and I want to do well for the team. Took me a few minutes to get going, but the more the game went on, I felt better. The guys in front played very good. I’m just happy we got the win.”
Reilly Smith, Deryk Engelland, William Karlsson, Max Pacioretty and Ryan Reaves scored for the Golden Knights, who now hit the road for two games on a 5-1-1 run.
Corey Crawford, who dropped to 1-4-0 against Vegas, made 32 saves for Chicago, which played its third road game in six nights. Dominik Kubalik scored with 27 seconds left to spoil Fleury’s bid for his 59th career shutout.
“Obviously it’s a special game for (Fleury), coming back, and I think everyone on the team knew what kind of game it was for him,” Karlsson said. “Unfortunately we couldn’t (finish) the shutout, but he had a great game and the team played pretty well, too.”
After an evenly contested first period that saw both goaltenders come up with spectacular saves to keep their opponents off the scoreboard, Vegas was increasingly better in the second with the first seven shots on goal.
“Whether it’s managing the puck or just being sharp in transition, they were better than us,” Chicago coach Jeremy Colliton. “We would have some zone time, and then when they got it back, they were jumping by us, so it makes it difficult.”
Smith took advantage on a power play with the eighth shot of the period. He gathered a rebound, maneuvered his way around Crawford and tucked home the first goal of the game.
Shortly after it was the 37-year-old Engelland beating Crawford top shelf with a wrist shot far side for his first goal of the season.
With less than a minute left in the second, Smith was masterful in forcing a turnover from Chicago veteran Jonathan Toews, streaking in on an odd-man rush and delaying just long enough to draw Crawford to his left before dishing to Karlsson, who finished with a short-handed goal to make it 3-0.
Meanwhile, Fleury didn’t look as though he missed any time whatsoever, flashing leather and making highlight-reel saves to thwart every Blackhawks effort, including back-to-back attempts by Toews on the doorstep late in the second.
Pacioretty’s goal made it 4-0 early in the third, and Reaves got his third of the season late in the period.
NOTES: The Blackhawks played without defenseman and alternate captain Duncan Keith, who didn’t make the three-game road trip due to a groin injury. ... Vegas forward Cody Glass missed his first game this season due to an upper-body injury sustained Sunday when Rangers winger Brendan Lemieux elbowed the rookie in the head. Lemieux was fined $2,000. ... Golden Knights winger Valentin Zykov played in his first game since serving a 20-game suspension for testing positive for performing-enhancing drugs. ... Alex Tuch has eight points (four goals, four assists) in six games. ... The Blackhawks are 2-9-5 with one day of rest. ... Colliton said the shoulder injury Calvin de Haan sustained during the game is “not good,” and the defenseman will head back to Chicago for evaluation.
Blackhawks: Continue their three-game road trip Thursday at Arizona.
Golden Knights: Play the first of back-to-back road games Thursday at St. Louis.