Until Friday night, Haydn Fleury didn't have a fond memory of Honda Center in Anaheim.
Flip the calendar back a couple of years to December of 2017. It was the 27th game of Fleury's rookie season in the NHL, the third stop on a cross-country, six-game road trip for the Carolina Hurricanes.
In the final minute of the second period, Andrew Cogliano smacked the puck out of his own end. Fleury fetched the clearing attempt in the neutral zone, but the puck was bouncing on choppy ice. Fleury tried to settle the puck and spin to his right back up the ice, but the puck just dribbled away.
"Panic," Fleury recalled.
In an unfortunate comedy of errors and perhaps a dastardly use of the Force (it was, after all, Star Wars Night), Fleury then tripped over himself trying to get back to the puck, and Jakob Silfverberg skated in alone on Scott Darling and scored to put the Ducks ahead, 2-1.
"When it doesn't go your way, it's not a good feeling," said Fleury, who ended the night a minus-3 in the team's 3-2 loss.
Fleury was a healthy scratch when the Hurricanes played in Anaheim in 2018-19, so the opportunity to redeem himself would have to wait.
The Canes were back in Anaheim on Friday, their final stop on a three-game set in California. It was the 96th game of the '96-born defenseman's career. Fleury was still searching for his first career goal in the National Hockey League and had just been anointed the active leader for most games played without a goal, thanks to Montreal Canadiens defenseman Victor Mete netting his first in career game No. 127 the night prior.
How sweet redemption was.
In the second period, the Canes were pestering the Ducks in their own end. Feeling oncoming pressure from Lucas Wallmark, Derek Grant haphazardly backhanded the puck into open ice. Fleury read the clearing attempt and jumped across the blue line to keep the zone on his backhand. He settled the puck, took a step and ripped a slapshot that beat Ryan Miller glove-side, just over his left pad.
Video: CAR@ANA: Fleury hammers home first NHL goal
The infamous streak was finally over.
"Relieved. Excited. All those things," Fleury said after the game. "I stepped into it and shot one as hard as I could."
For all the lighthearted grief he's been on the receiving end of in the last two-plus seasons, no one would have blamed Fleury for whatever came next. In fact, I had asked him in Los Angeles how he would celebrate when he finally scored, not knowing that moment would come later in the week. Fleury said he'd act like he'd been there before, and sure enough.
Fleury casually tossed his arms into the air in celebration, as if it was any other day at the office. As it turned out, his celebration was probably the most muted of anyone on the ice, where a jubilant Brett Pesce leapt into Fleury in the corner, and on the bench, where a smiling group of teammates awaited fist-bumps from the goal scorer.
"[Pesce] was probably more excited than I was," Fleury laughed after the game. "The whole bench, too. That was nice to see."
His goal, followed shortly after by Joel Edmundson's fight, breathed some life into the Hurricanes, but that's as close as they would come in a 4-2 loss.
"If there was a positive, it was nice to see him get one. He's been working hard for a lot of years. He's been playing well consistently lately, and you could tell it was starting to come for him," Jordan Staal said after the game. "We were joking with him, but at the same time, we knew it was coming. He's been playing some good hockey, and it was good to see him get one."
Nino Niederreiter grabbed the puck out of the net for safe keeping. Fleury also set his stick aside. On the bus ride to the airport after the game, Fleury sifted through the congratulatory text messages.
One to remember after one to forget two years prior.
"With that kind of memory there, it was nice to get that one," he said.