Fleury, Golden Knights defeat Jets, take 2-1 series lead
Phew. Currently checking to see if the ol’ ticker is still working.
How did the Vegas Golden Knights take home a 4-2 win in Game 3?
It’s a simple answer, really: Marc-Andre Fleury.
The scoring opened with a wicked goal from Jonathan Marchessault just 35 seconds into the game.
Fantastic defensive play by Brayden McNabb in the neutral zone to get it started. pic.twitter.com/0OTRrbBo6L— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) May 17, 2018
Brayden McNabb made a fantastic play (the first of many throughout the game), which sprung Marchessault on the breakaway. Still, the little guy can hustle.
That was part of an excellent first period in which the Golden Knights dominated the Winnipeg Jets. They outshot the Jets 10-3 and spent a lot of the time in the offensive zone.
Vegas followed that up with two rough periods in terms of possession, though. The second period was a high-contest affair for both sides. Mark Scheifele got things going with this goal, his 13th of the postseason:
Jets get on the board. pic.twitter.com/pVkyhu8Pvd— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) May 17, 2018
But James Neal responded almost immediately, taking just 12 seconds to re-claim a one-goal lead for the Knights:
How to NOT handle the puck behind the net. Presented by Connor Hellebuyck. pic.twitter.com/8O4LsgWD0P— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) May 17, 2018
Connor Hellebuyck is no Martin Brodeur. He turns it over while he’s behind the net, and Erik Haula hits a streaking Neal for the tally. A few minutes later, Neal would take on Haula’s role, hitting Alex Tuch in front of the net for what would become the game-winning goal. Turns out that getting behind the net and getting a body in front of it beats Hellebuyck often. The definition of high-danger chances; who would have guessed?
Then, in the third, the Jets seized control. Completely. It was pure chaos in the Knights’ end after Scheifele scored his second of the night to bring the Jets within one just 18 seconds into the frame:
Not much Fleury can do to stop this. pic.twitter.com/reKNRucqzU— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) May 17, 2018
That move, where one forward gets the puck behind the net and passes it to the forward in front? Turns out that also works for the Jets.
Up until the final five minutes of the period, it was Winnipeg against Fleury as the Golden Knights couldn’t get any offense going. The Knights were without a shot for most of the period, and Winnipeg had 16.
But all that matters is the scoreboard. Marchessault recorded his second straight two-goal game with an empty-netter with under three seconds left in the game, and Fleury pulled out another epic win. Flower made 33 saves on 35 shots, finishing with a .943 save percentage. He also got an assist on the empty-net goal. A goaltender’s assist hasn’t been this richly deserved since the invention of the trapezoid. But Fleury wasn’t just great tonight; he was outstanding.
His best save speaks for itself:
FLeury robs Scheifele TWICE. pic.twitter.com/v5QnyqIwew— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) May 17, 2018
You can't convince me Marc-Andre Fleury isn't a genetically enhanced superhuman. pic.twitter.com/yCs9glVfm7— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) May 17, 2018
He also did this:
Marc-Andre Fleury is legitimately the best human. pic.twitter.com/IYpLRilAyp— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) May 17, 2018
I could not imagine this man being anything but goofy and happy if I had not seen him throw a stick before.
So, besides the first period, that is not the kind of performance the Golden Knights can afford to repeat for the rest of the series. Fleury is an incredible goaltender, but as seen in Game 1, he can be asked to do too much. That was the case in this game as well considering he was peppered with 32 shots over the final 40 minutes. That’s why he’s the first star of the game, and that’s why he’s going to win the Conn Smythe if Vegas does the thing.
The possession metrics speak for themselves in this game. When two periods have a shot total of 32-20, and the Knights are on the bad side of that, high-danger chances are kind of irrelevant. By the way, high-danger chances were 16-8 in favor of the Jets. It was 8-1 in the final period.
Going 0-for-3 on the power play, as Vegas did, is also unhelpful. With the talent on both units, and the ability to score from anywhere, the Knights need to get a power-play goal if presented with multiple opportunities again.
Haula, Reilly Smith, Nate Schmidt, Colin Miller and Shea Theodore all play on the power play, but not one of them has a goal in this series. David Perron hasn’t played much, but when he’s reintroduced, he’ll be expected to score as well. The power play needs to find its groove again.
Speaking of Theodore, he totally removed Patrik Laine from the game when assigned to him. The closest Laine came to scoring was when he drew iron, but that was against Deryk Engelland and McNabb. If Theodore is able to continue to shut down Winnipeg’s Finnish sniper, and if he and Engelland can stop the Jets’ second line, that will be crucial going forward.
It’s hard to critique a win by multiple goals, but when it’s that type of nail-biter in the playoffs, it becomes much easier. The Knights simply cannot play the way they did in the second and especially the third period and expect to win from here on out. They have to be better.
The Golden Knights will take on the Jets in Game 4 on Friday. Until then, remember to breathe.