Golden Knights 2, Blackhawks 1: Fleury helps Vegas take commanding 3-0 series lead

A vintage Flower performance.

Game 3 was a nail-biter that came down to the wire, but the Vegas Golden Knights prevailed with a 2-1 win against the Chicago Blackhawks Saturday night in Edmonton.

The Knights now hold a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.

Marc-Andre Fleury got his first start of the series, and he came through in a big way. Though the goal he gave up was rather soft, he was tremendous throughout the game, keeping Vegas in it early and helping the Knights fight through an uncharacteristically rough third period.

Fleury finished the game with 26 saves on 27 shots for a .962 save percentage. He was excellent, and he needed to be early.

That’s because the Blackhawks had a strong opening period for the second game in a row. It was clear the Blackhawks meant business, as they loaded up Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Brandon Saad along with Duncan Keith and Adam Boqvist for the first shift of the game to set the tone.

Thanks to a lack of discipline on Vegas’ part, Chicago had plenty of chances to take over the game with three power plays in the first period alone after the Knights took just two penalties in Games 1 and 2. Fleury was the only reason Chicago didn’t jump out to a multi-goal lead.

Instead, the Knights scored the only goal of the first with William Karlsson‘s shorthanded marker just over four minutes into the frame. He sent a backhand shot top-shelf to beat Corey Crawford after receiving a perfect backhand saucer feed from Mark Stone.

But Vegas wasn’t the only team that had great looks on the penalty kill.

Kirby Dach got a perfect centering feed right in front of Fleury and was in the midst of making a move when Fleury kicked his pad out to nullify the chance.

Alex DeBrincat was all over the ice in by far his best effort of the postseason, but Fleury was up to the task, stopping several late opportunities from the former 40-goal scorer and his teammates.

However, Fleury also got some help from his good friend, Mr. Post. Kane had a wide-open net on the power play but sent this one-timer off the post in the final 20 seconds of the period.

Chicago had a carry-over power play to start the second, but Vegas was able to kill it off, with Fleury once again shutting down DeBrincat multiple times.

The Knights got a power play of their own shortly thereafter, but this time it was Crawford’s time to shine.

Crawford had a number of stellar saves throughout the game, as he had a hand in the low-scoring contest as well.

The ongoing battle within the game between Fleury and DeBrincat carried on, but Fleury continued to rob him, chance after chance. At one point in the game, DeBrincat had almost as many expected goals (0.58) as the entire Knights roster (0.64). He’ll surely see those golden pads in his dreams tonight.

Fleury held Chicago off long enough for the Knights to get something going at the other end of the rink.

Patrick Brown, who made his Golden Knights postseason debut tonight with Paul Stastny and Tomas Nosek out of the lineup, doubled Vegas’ lead late in the second period as the “next guy up” mantra struck again.

Brown drove to the net and tucked home a rebound off a shot by Alex Tuch that deflected off Crawford’s pad. It was Brown’s first Stanley Cup Playoff goal and second goal in two games with the Knights this season.

Despite Chicago’s best efforts, the Knights held a 2-0 lead through 40 minutes.

But it was all Chicago early in the third, and it took nearly 10 minutes for the Knights to record their first shot of the frame. Just over six minutes in, Fleury’s shutout bid came to an end. Olli Maatta scored on a harmless wrist shot that got through Fleury to cut Chicago’s deficit in half.

But Fleury bounced back and made several key stops in the third, including this cross-crease extension to rob Kane  on the doorstep.

The Blackhawks continued to dominate the frame, keeping Vegas pinned in its own end and clogging up the neutral zone to force turnovers. The Knights didn’t record a shot on goal until the 9:51 mark.

Though Chicago continued to push, the Knights shut things down in the second half of the period.

Crawford had to come up with two huge stops on Jonathan Marchessault to keep his team in the game.

But Vegas’ top line had an especially strong shift with roughly four minutes left that killed a minute off the clock and helped close this one out.

The Knights have yet to lose a game this postseason and are one win away from advancing to the second round, thanks in large part to Fleury.  Tonight was his 80th career postseason win; he is now tied with Ken Dryden for sixth place all-time.

The fact that Robin Lehner started the first two games of this series means different things to different people, but everyone can agree that Fleury stepped up when called upon and performed at the elite level his Golden Knights teammates have come to expect from him in the playoffs, a sentiment echoed by those teammates after the game.

Fleury was the best player on the ice for either team, but he had to be.

To Chicago’s credit, it was another strong, hard-fought effort, and it was the team’s best of the series by far, even if they didn’t get the results they were looking for.

It seemed like Kane was being triple-shifted. In actuality, he led all forwards in ice time with 24:41 and finished second behind only Keith, who played 25:17. He played more than anyone on the Knights, including defensemen. He and DeBrincat were the best players on the ice for the Hawks, and there were several long stretches where it was all Chicago.

Plus, unlike Game 1, the Blackhawks’ opportunities weren’t one-and-done’s; they had extended shifts in the offensive zone and were able to get to the high-danger areas.

It was particularly impressive the way the Blackhawks came out in the third, a period the Knights have utterly dominated so far this postseason. In fact, Maatta’s goal was just the second third-period goal Vegas has surrendered in six games.

But Chicago failed to capitalize on four power-play opportunities, in large part because of Fleury. In fact, if not for Fleury, it’s likely this series would be 2-1.

Instead, the Knights found a way to win and now hold a 3-0 series lead.

As Nate Schmidt said after the game, “That’s world-class goaltending right there.”

Vegas has a chance to wrap up the series when these teams meet tomorrow afternoon for Game 4.