Trevor Hagan/The Canadian Press via AP
Published Sunday, May 20, 2018 | 11:29 a.m.
Updated Sunday, May 20, 2018 | 2:44 p.m.
WINNIPEG, Manitoba — The Golden Knights are headed to the Stanley Cup Final.
A phrase that was inconceivable as recent as seven months ago seemed all but certain Sunday afternoon in Winnipeg. The Golden Knights continued their domination of the Western Conference with a 2-1 win over the Jets to close out the conference final series 4-1.
Ryan Reaves was the unlikely hero, tipping Luca Sbisa’s shot past Connor Hellebuyck and into the top corner of the net to give Vegas a lead in the second period that it wouldn’t relinquish.
Winnipeg had chances in the third but for the fourth game in a row Marc-Andre Fleury held them off in the biggest moments of the game. He earned his 12th win of the postseason and has to be considered a heavy favorite for the Conn Smythe Trophy for the most valuable player of the playoffs.
Speaking of trophies, the Golden Knights earned their first in franchise history. The Clarence S. Campbell Bowl, awarded to the Western Conference champion, was presented on the ice at Bell MTS Place after the game.
Alex Tuch opened the scoring early for the Golden Knights, taking advantage of a costly turnover in his own zone by Jets’ defenseman Josh Morrissey.
Morrissey would make up for his blunder with a goal of his own late in the first period that tied the score 1-1.
The Golden Knights never trailed in the final four games of the series after falling 4-2 in the opener.
Golden Knights lead 2-1 after two periods
It took Ryan Reaves 252 minutes of ice time to score his first goal as a member of the Vegas Golden Knights, but he couldn’t have picked a better time to do it.
The bruising enforcer beautifully tipped Luca Sbisa’s shot from the point into the top corner of the Jets’ goal to give Vegas a 2-1 lead entering the third period of Sunday afternoon’s game five.
If the Golden Knights can protect the lead, they are 20 minutes away from the Stanley Cup Final.
To do that, they’ll have to stay out of the penalty box better than they have to this point. Vegas took three penalties so far, and two inexcusable tripping penalties in the second period. The Golden Knights have killed all of the penalties off to this point, but they can’t bank on continuing to shut down the Jets’ dangerous power play unit.
Golden Knights, Jets tied after one period
The Golden Knights got the start they needed in Winnipeg, but the Jets responded near the end of the first period to draw even after 20 minutes.
Vegas’ forecheck was relentless for the first five minutes of play, and it eventually led to a costly turnover by Winnipeg. Defenseman Josh Morrissey turned the puck over to Alex Tuch right in front of the Jets’ goal, and Tuch fired it past Connor Hellebuyck to give the Golden Knights an early 1-0 lead.
The Golden Knights held that lead for most of the period until Morrissey redeemed himself with a missile of a shot that scorched past Marc-Andre Fleury’s outstretched glove.
The goal came with 2:46 remaining in the first and knotted the game at 1-1.
Vegas is 9-1 this postseason when scoring the first goal, while the Jets are 1-6 when allowing the first goal.
One win. That’s all the Golden Knights need to punch their ticket to the Stanley Cup Final.
Vegas is in Winnipeg this afternoon for an unusually early game that drops the puck at noon Pacific Time.
The Golden Knights have had only one game this season begin that early — a Dec. 31 tilt against the Toronto Maple Leafs at T-Mobile Arena.
Vegas won that contest handily by a score of 6-3. The team has played extremely well with early start times, and star forward William Karlsson has excelled in particular.
Karlsson tallied the first hat trick in Golden Knights history in that win over the Maple Leafs, and added another hat trick on a relatively early start on March 18 against Calgary. He even joked in the locker room afterwards that he plays better without a morning skate.
Another good omen for the Golden Knights today is their success to this point at closing teams out on the road, and on the first try.
Vegas ended the Kings’ season with a 1-0 win in Los Angeles to complete the first-round sweep, then took the Sharks out in San Jose in the second round.
Winnipeg is better than both the Kings and Sharks, and has the best home record in the entire NHL so this will be the stiffest test yet.
Prediction: Jets 3, Golden Knights 2 in OT
Playoffs record for predictions: 10-4
Season record for predictions: 38-26
Puck drops: 12:00 p.m.
Where: Bell MTS Place, Winnipeg
Radio: Fox Sports 1340 AM and 98.9 FM
TV: NBC (DirecTV 3, Cox 1003)
Betting line: Golden Knights plus-145, Total 6 minus-125 to the under
Golden Knights playoff record (11-3) (5-2 away)
Coach: Gerard Gallant
Playoffs goal leader: Jonathan Marchessault (8)
Playoffs assist leader: Reilly Smith (14)
Expected goalie: Marc-Andre Fleury (11-3, 1.72 goals against average)
Winnipeg Jets playoff record (9-7) (5-3 home)
Coach: Paul Maurice
Playoffs goal leader: Mark Scheifele (14)
Playoffs assist leader: Blake Wheeler (187)
Expected goalie: Connor Hellebuyck (9-7, 2.38 goals against average)
Golden Knights expected game day roster
Forwards (12): Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Ryan Carpenter, Cody Eakin, William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault, James Neal, Tomas Nosek, David Perron, Ryan Reaves, Reilly Smith and Alex Tuch.
Defensemen (6): Deryk Engelland, Brayden McNabb, Colin Miller, Luca Sbisa, Nate Schmidt and Shea Theodore.
Goalies (2): Marc-Andre Fleury and Maxime Lagace