March On! Golden Knights Slay Sharks, Continue Historic Inaugural Season
What if I told you back in October that the Vegas Golden Knights would: win the Pacific Division, finish the regular season with 100+ points, make the playoffs, sweep their first round series, and go to the Conference Finals? You would probably think I was crazy. After all, they were just an expansion team and most of their players consisted of guys other teams did not find of value to their franchise. Yet here we sit in the beginning of May and marvel at the fact guys like William Karlsson, Erik Haula, and Nate Schmidt have led this team to the Western Conference Finals.
After a hot start to the season it seemed inevitable the Golden Knights magic would run out and they would begin to slip, but it never happened. Vegas rode the hot start to a 51 win season, 109 points, and the division title. Now after a Game 6 victory over the San Jose Sharks last night, the Golden Knights will face either the Nashville Predators or Winnipeg Jets for a chance to advance to the Stanely Cup. Out of all the remaining teams still alive in the NHL Playoffs, the Golden Knights compiled a 9-3-0 record in the regular season against them.
Marc-Andre Fleury continued his leadership in the goal, making 28 saves on 28 attempts en route to the Golden Knights 3-0 victory. It was Fleury's fourth shutout of the postseason in 10 games. But it did not come without a little help from the goal posts which prevented the Sharks from scoring on multiple occasions. Nonetheless, Fleury still made some impressive saves on odd man rushes and breakaway attempts by the Sharks espeically early on. He did not let the home team get the early momentum in an elimination game which is key to a road team having success.
After a first period which provided both teams with a variety of chances to get on the board first, the score remained 0-0. Sharks goalie Martin Jones made a great save on William Karlsson early on in the frame after a turnover with the Sharks on the power play. A few minutes later, he turned down an attempt during a scramble in front of the net that upon review was ruled no goal after the puck was pushed across following the whistle. It was the Sharks turn with 10:58 left in the first when Tomas Hertl was all alone with Fleury but missed off the post and the rebound was blocked in front keeping the game scoreless. San Jose would send Fleury scrambling again late in the period on a shot from the point by Joakim Ryan that was deflected twice then off Fleury's pad. After deflecting to Timo Meier, the left winger fired at the net under Fleury and wide of the goal. The Sharks were not done there as Brent Burns missed off the post as the period came to a close following a deflection in front. That totals up to to Shark chances in the first period that were off the post, giving Vegas some lucky breaks early.
But Vegas made the most of their opportunities in the second period and Johnathan Marchessault got the scoring started with a five-hole shot on Jones at 6:33 of the second. Following a turnover by the Sharks in the defensive zone, Reilly Smith made the pass to Marchessault who turned around and made the shot between the leg of Jones putting Vegas up 1-0. Another turnover later in the second gave Vegas a great opportunity to score again, but this time Justin Braun and Chris Tierney helped out Martin Jones who was forced out of the goal on the shot attempt by Brayden McNabb. McNabb curled around Jones, faking the shot then firing at the empty net and being blocked by Braun. The deflection carried out to Reilly Smith who was blocked by Tierney this time, keeping the score 1-0. Then came the phantom goal by Nate Schmidt at 15:38 that was thought to be deflected off the crossbar. Schmidt fired a shot from the point which was off the post then crossbar before bouncing back into play. The puck hit the camera in the net and upon review was ruled a goal, giving Vegas a 2-0 lead headed into the third period.
Despite holding a 2-0 lead, the Golden Knights continued to apply heavy pressure to the Sharks, holding a 16-10 edge in shots on goal for the period. They continued to get quality opportunities in front of the net that were repeatedly denied by Martin Jones. As the period wore on the Sharks got some quality chances on Fleury as well, but he continued to stand tall in the net. With 6:14 remaining, the Sharks had a chance to cut the Golden Knights lead to 2-1 but Brent Burns shot hit off the goalpost again and bounced out. Marc-Edouard Vlasic had another chance shortly after Jones was pulled from the goal for San Jose on a rebound following Joe Pavelski's shot. Fleury recovered quickly after Pavelski's shot, slid across the net, and denied Vlasic's shot from the left side as the Sharks season was on life support. Just seconds later, Cody Eakin iced the game for Vegas with an empty netter at 18:09 sending the Golden Knights to the Western Conference Finals in their first season.
The Vegas Golden Knights now await the winner of the Nashville Predators-Winnipeg Jets series, Game 6 of the series is tonight at 9:30 PM EST as the Predators look to avoid elimination and send the series back to Nashville for Game 7. But regardless of which team Vegas faces next round, they are sure to be an underdog just like they have been all season as they continue to defy the odds as an expansion team in their inaugural season in the NHL.
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