May. 22, 2018
Golden Knights Continue Improbable Run: Down Jets En Route to Stanley Cup Finals
Before the season started last October, the Vegas Golden Knights were 500-1 odds to win the Stanley Cup in their inaugural season in the National Hockey League. Fast forward to May and they are four wins away from winning the Stanley Cup after beating the Winnipeg Jets in five games on Sunday to advance to the Finals.
They will face the winner of the Washington Capitals-Tampa Bay Lightning series. After the Capitals took a 2-0 series lead courtesy of two road wins in Games 1 and 2, they dropped the next three games and head into Game 6 tonight at 8:00 EST trailing the series 3-2 to Tampa Bay. Whichever team advances will face a Golden Knights team that has shocked the world in their first season. During the regular season, the Golden Knights were a combined 4-0-0 against the Lightning and Capitals. Another interesting note, the Golden Knights could potentially have home-ice advantage should the Capitals advance.
As with the rest of the series, Game 5 was a close one between the Jets and Golden Knights. Coming into the game, the team that scored first in each of the first four games went on to win. The Jets came out firing in the first period, outshooting the Golden Knights 13-8, but Vegas did not waste any time getting the puck in the net early. After goalie Connor Hellebuyck took the puck out from behind the net, defenseman Josh Morrissey failed to get it out of the Winnipeg zone. It resulted in a turnover in front of the net which was picked up by Alex Tuch who fired it at the net and scored the first goal of the game with 14:49 remaining in the first, putting Vegas up 1-0. Morissey would make up for his mistake later on in the frame when Bryan Little took the puck off the draw, it carried over to Morissey who fired at Marc-Andre Fleury with 2:46 remaining in the first to tie the game at one.
Both teams wasted no time going at each other to start the second period and getting great opportunities on net. Just 30 seconds into the period, Jets' center Mark Scheifele took a shot that went off Fleury's glove, resulting in a rebound opportunity for Winnipeg that Fluery made another great save on to eliminate the threat. Coming down the other end of the ice immediately after the Winnipeg chance, Vegas wasted no time trying to take the lead in this one. A scramble in front of the net resulted in the puck traveling onto the goal line and then off the post for Vegas, an opportunity that Hellebuyck was somehow able to dig out of the net and keep the game tied up. However, the Golden Knights kept firing away in the second, a period in which they held a 15-11 shots advantage over the Jets and eventually they connected. With 6:38 left in the second, Tomas Nosek connected with a pass up top to Luca Sbisa who fired a shot at the goal which was deflected by Ryan Reaves into the top left corner of the Winnipeg net giving Vegas a 2-1 lead heading into the final period.
All series long, Winnipeg would not go down easy and this game was no different. A little under four minutes into the period, Joel Armia fired a pass across the ice and off the boards to Dustin Byfuglien, forcing Fleury to move right to left across the goal mouth to make a terrific stop on the shot attempt. Hellebuyck did his part as well to give the Jets a chance to tie the game up late. With 8:10 remaining, Johnathan Marchessault made a pass in front of the net to William Karlsson who fired a backhand shot on net that Hellebuyck was able to get his left shoulder on, preventing Vegas from taking a two goal advantage. Two minutes later, a phenominal pass from Alex Tuch found Erik Haula all alone in front of the Winnipeg net, but Hellebuyck came up big again stopping the shot that Haula tried to push between his legs. But in the end, it was not enough for Winnipeg and with an extra attacker on the ice in the final minutes, they struggled to get consistent pressure on Fleury. Vegas constantly swarmed the puck and forced Winnipeg to the side boards, taking away the opportunity for a point blank shot in the middle of the ice. On their last gasp attempt in the waning seconds of the game, the Jets' Patrik Laine dug the puck out of the side, throwing it across the ice, bouncing off a skater in front, and over the stick of Mark Scheifele as the Jets fell 2-1 at home.
Defying all odds, the Vegas Golden Knights were victorious and on their way to the Stanley Cup Finals in their inaugural season. They became the first team since the St. Louis Blues in 1967-1968 to reach the championship in their inaugural season, a season in which the Blues were swept in by the Montreal Canadiens. But this Vegas team, built last June in an Expansion Draft has continued to shock the league all season long and go above expectations. The only thing they have left to do is win four more games and hoist the Cup for the city of Vegas.
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