SAN JOSE, Calif. — Shortly after the San Jose Sharks were denied by the iron for the fourth time of the night, Marc-Andre Fleury rubbed the goal post to thank it for his good fortune.
There’s something magical about the ride the expansion Vegas Golden Knights have been on all season and now it’s going all the way to the Western Conference Final.
Fleury made 28 saves in his fourth shutout of the playoffs and the Golden Knights have made it to the NHL’s final four in their inaugural season after beating the San Jose Sharks 3-0 in Game 6 of their second-round series Sunday.
“It was maybe a little bit of a shock, but I’m proud of our team, our organization, the way they did things here,” Fleury said. “I’m proud to be where we are right now.”
Fleury, who was part of three Stanley Cup-winning teams in Pittsburgh, is a main reason for the success. He allowed just three goals in a first-round sweep against Los Angeles, posted shutouts in Games 1 and 6 against the Sharks and was also spectacular in an overtime win in Game 3.
He had plenty of help from a crew of castoffs who have come together in Vegas to form a team that has a legitimate shot at a championship. Vegas next will play either Winnipeg or Nashville in the Western Conference Final. The Jets lead that series 3-2 heading into Game 6 on Monday night.
“We deserve to be here,” coach Gerard Gallant said. “We’re a good team, we play hard and we played well all season long. The two teams we played were very good hockey teams and we were very evenly matched with those teams.”
Jonathan Marchessault opened the scoring, Nate Schmidt added an insurance goal that was only detectable by replay and Cody Eakin sealed it with an empty-netter to help Vegas become just the third team in NHL history to win multiple series in its first season.
The Toronto Arenas won the Stanley Cup in the first post-season in league history in 1918 and St. Louis won two rounds to win the all-expansion West Division in 1968.
The Sharks had numerous opportunities all night but were thwarted by a couple of shots that hit the iron, some acrobatic saves from Fleury and other chances that trickled just wide. This marked the fourth straight post-season for the Sharks that ended with a loss on home ice.
“It’s very disappointing, you get this far and lose, it’s disappointing,” Sharks forward Logan Couture said. “”It’s extra disappointing when you don’t play the way that you know that you’re capable of. … That’s something that’s very difficult to take.”
The Golden Knights took control of this game with some good fortune in the second period. It started when usually reliable Marc-Edouard Vlasic turned the puck over in his own zone. Reilly Smith took control near the blue line and found Marchessault alone in front for a goal that trickled between Martin Jones’ pads.
The Golden Knights then added to the lead after an icing by Brent Burns led to an offensive zone faceoff. David Perron beat Tierney on the draw and Schmidt took a shot that appeared to deflect off the post and out.
Play went on for 25 more seconds before the buzzer rang, with the situation room in Toronto calling for a video review. That quickly showed that the puck bounced off the post, off a piece equipment inside the net and out.
Vegas then had a delayed celebration for the goal that made it 2-0.
“I had no idea,” Schmidt said. “I’d never seen something like that happen where they blew the play dead, but when I was skating back to the bench and all the guys were yelling, ‘It’s in.’”
That was the type of bounce the Sharks didn’t get early in the game when they hit the post or crossbar three times in the opening period and then again in the third when they tried to cut into Vegas’ lead.
They also had several other chances that either Fleury turned aside with acrobatic saves, trickled just wide or they were unable to get a clean shot, like a rebound Couture whiffed on from the slot in the first period with an open net.
“It’s a fine line,” coach Peter DeBoer said. “I think we had a couple of those that didn’t go in. That’s hockey. But Vegas deserves to be moving on. They played great. They finished the chances when they needed to and got saves when they needed to.”
NOTES: Jones made 30 saves. … Vegas F William Carrier was scratched with a lower-body injury and replaced by Ryan Reaves, who played his first game this post-season.