The Vegas Golden Knights and San Jose Sharks played their seventh game of the season Wednesday night at T-Mobile Arena. The Golden Knights entered the night only needing a single point to clinch their fourth straight playoff berth.
They picked up two points with a 5-2 win, their eighth straight victory, making the Knights the first team to clinch a playoff spot this season.
Marc-Andre Fleury was once again stellar. He made quite a few sprawling saves throughout the night, including a particularly clutch one on Ryan Donato late in the third period.
Jonathan Marchessault recorded four points in the winning effort, and Mattias Janmark scored his first goal as a Golden Knight.
The Sharks got out to an early start with a quick goal from Timo Meier on an ugly wraparound that snuck behind Fleury. Vegas had been all over the ice in the first few minutes of the first period, but San Jose was able to strike first.
Vegas bounced back almost immediately, though, as Marchessault used a disgusting deke on Sharks goaltender Josef Korenar, who made his second career start tonight, and buried it past him to tie the game.
There was a lengthy scrum in the corner stemming from a rough Brent Burns hit on Max Pacioretty, which resulted in the teams going 4-on-4, but that quickly became a 4-on-3 for the Sharks after Shea Theodore went to the box. However, the Golden Knights were able to kill it off even though they were hemmed in their zone for most of it.
Late in the period, the Golden Knights went to the power play, but they were not able to beat Korenar.
The second period really tightened up and slowed down by a great deal; it was the only period in which San Jose controlled possession, leading in Corsi (18-13) and shots (11-8) at 5-on-5 as well as overall shots (12-10).
The Sharks were able to capitalize after Fleury was unable to control a rebound. It fell to Tomas Hertl, and he rifled one on a beautiful shot.
Patrick Marleau got an assist on the play in his 900th straight game.
The Golden Knights got it right back, however, courtesy of a Mark Stone wraparound on the power play.
He was assisted by Pacioretty and Theodore. Pacioretty notched his 600th career point with the assist.
Alex Tuch went to the box for roughing on a retaliatory penalty after Alec Martinez was decked by Evander Kane in what was another heated contest between two rivals. The Golden Knights’ penalty kill was once again excellent and was able to kill it off without much of a problem.
In the final minute of the frame, Tuch buried a shot on a wide-open net after a beautiful pass from Theodore to give Vegas its first lead of the game.
Marchessault set up the play with a great effort in the offensive zone.
The Golden Knights continued to play well in the early stages of the third period, but Fleury had to make a scrambling save to keep the Vegas lead intact.
Around the midway point, it seemed as though San Jose was about to tap in a certain goal, but Fleury made a desperation save and robbed Donato in front of a yawning cage to keep San Jose off the board.
A few moments later, the Golden Knights extended the lead with a goal from Marchessault, his second of the game. He sniped one past Korenar after a nice pass from Janmark. The goal made Fleury’s save all the more significant.
The Golden Knights went to the kill late in the third after a bench minor for too many men on the ice. Vegas’ excellent penalty kill continued its run of dominance by killing off the ill-timed penalty to keep the lead at two. Vegas finished the game 3-for-3 on the penalty kill.
Korenar went to the bench for the extra attacker with 2:17 remaining, but Janmark was able to bury the empty-netter — his first goal as a Golden Knight and 11th of the season — to seal the 5-2 win.
Fleury was fantastic once again, finishing the game with 31 saves on 33 shots for a .939 save percentage in his 487th career win. He made huge saves at key moments throughout the night, including this one in the first period.
The Knights finished the game with a 61-48 edge in Corsi, a 56.67 percent shot share, 60.78 percent scoring chance share and 56.88 expected goal share at 5-on-5. They also led in shots (40-33) despite being outshot in the second and third periods.
It was another team win, but a lot of players had especially effective games, including Theodore and Tuch. Alex Pietrangelo had another noticeable performance, making several strong plays in the offensive zone and coming close to scoring several times.
But it was the second line with Marchessault, Janmark and William Karlsson that truly dominated. The trio combined for seven points on the night, two of which came from Janmark, who has been a very solid addition for the Knights thus far.
Dylan Sikura made his Golden Knights debut and finished the game with a minus-one rating, two shots, one block and two takeaways in 9:44 of ice time.
It was a very chippy game but a fitting way for Vegas to clinch the playoffs. The Knights remain undefeated against the Sharks this season (7-0-0) and have a league-leading 33 wins on the year.
The Knights have never missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the franchise’s four-year existence. The Knights are just the fourth team in NHL history to reach the playoffs in each of their first four seasons, along with the Oilers, Rangers and Blues.
The Knights and Sharks will conclude their season series in Vegas’ final game of the regular season on May 12.
In the meantime, next up for the playoff-bound Golden Knights is a meeting with Anaheim on Saturday.