Golden Knights bringing Stanley Cup Finals to Las Vegas in expansion season
WINNIPEG, Manitoba (AP) — Ryan Reaves scored the winning goal, Marc-Andre Fleury made 31 saves and the Vegas Golden Knights pushed their remarkable expansion season into the Stanley Cup Final, beating the Winnipeg Jets 2-1 on Sunday in Game 5 of the Western Conference final.
Alex Tuch also scored for the Knights. They lost Game 1 in Winnipeg before winning four straight to become the first expansion team since the 1968 St. Louis Blues — when the six initial expansion teams were put alone in the West — to get to the final.
Vegas will meet the Tampa Bay Lightning or the Washington Capitals in the final. Tampa Bay leads the Eastern Conference final 3-2, with Game 6 set for Monday night in Washington.
Reaves, the bruising Winnipeg native acquired from the Pittsburgh Penguins before to the trade deadline in February, snapped a 1-1 tie with 6:39 left in the second period when he tipped Luca Sbisa‘s point shot past Hellebuyck for his first goal of the playoffs.
Winnipeg got a power play early in the third, but couldn’t muster much of anything. The Knights smothered much of the Jets’ attack for the next 10 minutes, with Hellebuyck having to come up with big stops on William Karlsson and Eric Haula to keep his team within one.
The Jets pressed with under 4 minutes to go, with Fleury stopping captain Blake Wheeler on the doorstep, but it wasn’t nearly enough as the Knights closed out their third straight series on the road.
The Jets beat the Knights 4-2 in Game 1, but Vegas snatched home ice with a 3-1 victory in Game 2 before picking up 4-2 and 3-2 wins at T-Mobile Arena.
The Knights, whose jaw-dropping inaugural 109-point campaign included a Pacific Division crown, swept the Los Angeles Kings in the first round, and knocked out the San Jose Sharks in six games.
The Jets had the NHL’s second-best record with 114 points in the regular season. They advanced to the first conference final in city’s history with a five-game victory over the Minnesota Wild in the opening round before topping the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Nashville Predators in Game 7 on the road.
The usual raucous, white-clad crowd at Bell MTS Place — not to mention the thousands of fans outside the arena attending a street party on a sun-drenched spring afternoon — were silenced just 5:11 into Game 5 when Tuch jumped on Morrissey’s turnover and fired his sixth past Hellebuyck.
The Jets were tentative to start and it got worse after the opener as Vegas dominated the next couple of shifts, forcing some good saves from Hellebuyck before Winnipeg got its feet moving.
After being outshot 7-1 in the first 7 minutes, the Jets finally pushed back and turned the tide with the next nine attempts on goal, culminating with Morrissey making amends for his early gaffe with 2:46 left in the period.
Bryan Little won a faceoff in the offensive zone straight back to second-year defenseman, who blasted his first career playoff goal past Fleury’s glove.
One of Winnipeg’s downfalls in the series through four games was an inability to maintain momentum. The Knights scored within 1:28 of a Jets’ goal in each of the first four games — a crushing 12 seconds after Winnipeg tied Game 3, and an equally gut-wrenching 43 seconds after the Jets knotted Game 4 — but they managed to take the game to the locker rooms tied 1-1.
Both teams had chances in the second period before Reaves made it 2-1, with Jets center Mathieu Perrault just missing on a pass from Little that had too much speed.
Right after Reaves scored the second playoff goal of his career — and first since 2015 with St. Louis — Winnipeg’s Nikolaj Ehlers rang a shot off the post on Fleury.
NOTES: The Jets were an NHL-best 32-7-2 at home in the regular season, but were a pedestrian 5-4 in the playoffs, including losses in four of their last five post-season outings. Winnipeg had won a combined 13 straight at home before dropping a 2-1 decision in Game 4 against Nashville. … With his team facing elimination, Jets coach Paul Maurice inserted defensemen Dmitry Kulikov and Joe Morrow in the lineup for Toby Enstrom and Ben Chiarot. Kulikov hadn’t played since injuring his back on March 8, while Morrow last suited up April 20 in Game 5 of the Minnesota series.
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