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November 17, 2018

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With Fleury’s historically good play, Golden Knights appear headed for deep playoff run

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AP Photo/Alex Gallardo

A shot by Los Angeles Kings center Jeff Carter, second from left, gets in front of Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, right, on a centering pass from center Tobias Rieder (10), of Germany, during the second period of Game 4 of an NHL hockey first-round playoff series in Los Angeles, Tuesday, April 17, 2018.

The Golden Knights beat the Kings 1-0 Tuesday night at the Staples Center to complete the 4-0 sweep in their first-round playoff series.

A block east of the arena lies a street littered with partially constructed scaffolding and construction cones, labeled with a blue street sign with white trim. It reads: Flower Street.

The road isn’t named after Marc-Andre Fleury, but after the series he just had, it should be. Flower in French is Fleur — hence the nickname "Flower."

With two shutouts in four games, allowing only three total goals in 275 minutes, Fleury just completed one of the most dominant goaltending performances in NHL history. Since 1980, the Golden Knights are the sixth team to allow three or fewer goals in a playoff series.

The Golden Knights and Kings combined for only 10 goals throughout the entirety of the series, which is tied for the second-least in NHL history for a four-game series — behind only a series between the Maple Leafs and Bruins in 1935 when nine goals were scored.

It was a goaltender duel for the ages, and Fleury bested Quick by one goal in all four contests.

“We knew when we got him we got a superstar goaltender,” coach Gerard Gallant said. “He has carried our team a lot. He was huge for us, and at key times. L.A. put a lot of pressure on us the last two nights and had a lot of good chances to score, and he just shut the door.”

Fleury stopped all 31 shots in Tuesday night’s series-clinching win, and none were bigger than a third period save on Kings captain Anze Kopitar.

Kopitar faked out Alex Tuch with a slick toe-drag deke and walked down the slot with no one to stop him but Fleury. He fired glove-side, and Fleury swung his left arm violently in the air, just catching enough of the puck to deflect it over the crossbar.

“He’s unbelievable,” forward Reilly Smith said. “It’s the key to our success, and obviously this series he pretty much shut them out completely.”

Fleury had an equally monumental stop in the Golden Knights’ 3-2 win on Sunday night, sliding across his crease at the last moment to get his pad on a low shot by Tyler Toffoli.

“Those are small details but they are huge momentum changers, and he had them the entire series,” forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare said. “Our next shift was unbelievable because of that save.”

Fleury stopped 127 of the 130 shots he faced in the first-round series for an astronomical save percentage of .977. Compare that to his career playoff save percentage of .910 and it could be argued that the three-time Stanley Cup champion is playing the best hockey of his career.

“I feel good but it’s always one game at a time,” Fleury said. “I feel confident. I think we are (confident) and I am too, but you don’t want to be too high or too low because it’s a long ride until the end.”

In his usual self-deprecating fashion, Fleury refused to take all of the credit for shutting the Kings down.

“The team was great in front of me,” he said. “They helped me out a lot by not giving up too many scoring chances.”

But the numbers show that Fleury, 33, is playing at a truly elite level. He set new career-highs during the regular season in save percentage (.927) and goals against average (2.24). He’s already only one shutout away from his career high for an entire postseason with two.

“He’s been motivated all year,” forward James Neal said. “A guy who has three Stanley Cups you wouldn’t think he has to prove anything, but that’s the kind of competitive guy he is, and I love having him behind us. He’s been our backbone and our captain all year.”

If he continues his play, the Golden Knights could make a deep run in the playoffs, possibly to the very end. Vegas will likely play the Sharks, who hold a 3-0 series lead against the Ducks, in the next round.

“I think you need a combination of everything to win,” Neal said. “You need great goaltending, timely goals and unsung heroes. We’ve had that so far so we have to continue that.”

The last time Fleury led his team to a first-round sweep it was in 2009 — the year he helped the Pittsburgh Penguins earn 16 wins and he hoisted Lord Stanley’s Cup for the first time in his career.

“You never go far in the playoffs if your goalie isn’t your best player. That’s often the case,” Bellemare said. “He’s been our best player almost the whole season long. We are lucky to have him and we know it.”

If Fleury maintains this level of play for three more playoff series, there soon could be a Flower Street in Las Vegas.

Jesse Granger can be reached at 702-259-8814 or [email protected]. Follow Jesse on Twitter at twitter.com/JesseGranger_.

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