EditorsNote: adds Schmidt quote
Marc-Andre Fleury made 28 saves for his 14th career playoff shutout, and the expansion Vegas Golden Knights added another chapter to their NHL history-making season with a 3-0 victory over the San Jose Sharks on Sunday night at SAP Arena in San Jose, clinching the best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal series in six games.
Vegas, which cruised to the Pacific Division regular-season title, will play the winner of the Central Division second-round series between Winnipeg and Nashville in the Western Conference finals for a chance to reach the Stanley Cup Final. The Jets, who host the Predators on Monday night, lead that series 3-2.
Fleury’s shutout was his fourth in 10 playoff games this season. He moved into a tie with Ed Belfour, Dominik Hasek and Jacques Plante for fifth place on the NHL all-time playoff shutout leaders list with his 14th in 125 playoff games.
“Happy. Happy,” Fleury said of his reaction to closing out the Sharks. “This was a tough series. We beat a good team. Proud of the guys the way they played tonight.”
Nate Schmidt had a goal and an assist, and Jonathan Marchessault and Cody Eakin scored for Vegas. Martin Jones stopped 30 shots for San Jose.
The Sharks had the two best chances during a scoreless first period. Tomas Hertl clanged a shot off the crossbar nine minutes in after coming in on a breakaway during a Vegas line change. Evander Kane also hit the post when he deflected a Brent Burns shot from the point just before the end of the period.
“I got lucky a few times,” Fleury said of the first period. “They hit the post, you know, so I just stopped the other ones and the guys picked it up in the second (period) and never looked back.”
Vegas finally broke through at the 6:33 mark of the second period on Marchessault’s fourth goal of the playoffs. Marchessault scored off a pass from Reilly Smith, who stole the puck from Marc-Edouard Vlasic as the Sharks defenseman tried to pass the puck out of his own zone.
The Golden Knights nearly made it 2-0 five minutes later, but Sharks center Chris Tierney blocked a shot by Smith in front of an open net and San Jose right winger Timo Meier then stopped Brayden McNabb’s rebound attempt.
Schmidt then increased the Vegas lead to 2-0 at 15:38 of the middle period with a blast from inside the blue line off a faceoff won by David Perron. The shot hit the goal post and then quickly caromed off the camera inside middle of the net and bounced out, and play initially continued until the siren sounded on the ice after the NHL Situation Room in Toronto, in coordination with the video goal judge, was able to determine that a goal had been scored through the use of a replay.
“I had no idea it went in,” Schmidt said, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “It’s something that happens in playoff hockey. There’s more traffic going to the front of the net and it’s tough for the goalie to see. So you throw it at the net and sometimes you catch a lucky bounce.”
“I’ve never seen something like that happen where they blew the play dead. When I was skating back to the bench and the guys are congratulating me, I figured they were just being excited. I still haven’t seen the play.”
Burns hit another goalpost with 6:12 to go, San Jose’s best scoring chance in the third period. San Jose pulled Jones with 2:15 remaining, and Eakin, off a pass from ex-Shark Ryan Carpenter, sealed the win with an empty-netter with 1:51 left.
San Jose captain Joe Pavelski said, “We probably needed to do a little better job in front of (Fleury). The games that got away from us we probably turned a few too many pucks over. We didn’t spend enough time in their O-zone. We kind of fed their transition. They’re a dangerous team when you give them that.”
—Field Level Media