Golden Knights Shut Out Sharks, On To The Western Conference Finals

Alex Wright

Erik Verduzco-Las Vegas Review Journal
The Vegas Golden Knights celebrate beating San Jose in the Western Conference Semifinals and advancing to the Conference Finals

You will never find a city quite like Las Vegas, with their flashy signs and towering hotels. Sin City loves to do things their own way and play by their own “house rules.” The same is true about their hockey team, the Vegas Golden Knights, who are on to the Western Conference Finals.

On Sunday Night in San Jose, California, the Golden Knights shut out the San Jose Sharks in Game 6 of the Western Conference Semifinals. The game was typical Golden Knights style of play, high paced offense, aggressive defense, and excellent goaltending.

After a scoreless first period, the Golden Knights struck twice in the second period. It was the Vegas’ deadly first line with the first goal. William Karlsson forced a turnover in offensive territory. He fed it off to Reilly Smith who found an open Jonathan Marchessault, who fired it past the pads of Sharks’ goalie Martin Jones.

The 1st line of forwards for Vegas has been responsible for 32 points this postseason. Reilly Smith leads the team with 10 assist this postseason. Karlsson and Marchessault have 4 goals each, and 10 and 11 points respectively this postseason. The chemistry between the 3 has been special, as the 3 contributed for 213 total points during the regular season. It has put them as one of the best, if not the best, front line in the NHL.

Later on in the period, defenseman Nate Schmidt fired the puck towards the net. It had appeared that the puck hit the top of the crossbar and ricochet back into play. A few second later, the horn sounded, it was the NHL replay center in Toronto who wanted to take a second look at the play. Upon review, it showed the puck clearing the red line in the net and hitting the camera inside the net, a good goal and a 2-0 lead for Vegas.

With Vegas still playing aggressively with a 2 goal lead, they forced another turnover and Cody Eakin added an empty net goal in the third period to give the Golden Knights more insurance, a 3-0 in the game. Once the final horn sounded, Vegas jumped form their bench, and mobbed goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. The key to so much of the Golden Knights success this season.

Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury has been the rock of the team through this remarkable journey. In Game 6, he stopped all 28 shots by San Jose and posted his 4th shut-out of the postseason. Which is the most among playoff goalies this postseason.

Fleury, 33, won three Stanley Cup Championships with Pittsburgh. This summer, he was not one of their players protected from the expansion draft and Vegas pounced. The Penguins have head young star Matt Murray working the nets, as Fleury played the role of backup. And though his own personal adversities, such as his injury early in the year, his play has been exactly what this record breaking first year franchise needs.

The Golden Knights have broken the mold on what an expansion team should be. Shattering all first-year expansion team records and proving the “expert analyst” wrong in their pre-season predictions of the team. They have also displayed to the rest of the country that professional sports in Las Vegas does work.

365 days ago, the organization had zero players. It would not be until 6 more weeks until they selected their entire roster for their upcoming inaugural season. Leaving this group of misfits, wisely deemed; “The Golden Misfits,” with less than four months before the regular season began. With all involved unsure on how the season would play out.

Then on October 1st, the city of Las Vegas changed forever. With the tragic strip shooting that took the lives of 58 innocent victims, the Golden Knights acted as a rallying cry for the city to come together behind. The community support was visible throughout the season as the Golden Knights powered to the Pacific Division title and their continued success to through the postseason.

The relentless mindset of the city rubbed off on the Golden Knights. It gave the players extra motivation to work harder throughout the season. And to try and do the impossible of winning the Stanley Cup in their first season. Their style of play and character of each player resembles that of many first responders during the “One October Shooting.”

Vegas realized that not everything in their first year would be perfect. Tied in the series with San Jose (2-2), the coaching staff knew something needed to change to give the team the best chance to win. Prior to Game 5, head coach Gerard Gallant made pivotal lineup changes to his 4th Line. He implemented Lucas Sbisa and Oscar Lindberg to give them some spark from their other lines of forwards. Another addition included Ryan Reaves, who was placed in the lineup after an injury to William Carrier.

Now as the playoffs continue for Vegas, their depth will be put to the test. Through the postseason, 22 different skaters have hit the ice for the Golden Knights. And the players who do not make the 20-man active roster for the postseason games put in extra work after practice. When the practice facility is empty, it is those “healthy-scratches,” that continue to work to be ready just in case their name is called to be placed on the active roster.

Coach Gallant told the Las Vegas Sun about what he needs from his players to earn a spot on the active game roster. “Hungry guys ready to play, I want competitive guys in there playing. When you lose a game sometimes you go through with your coaching staff and see a guy like Lindberg working hard in practice.” The players’ all carry themselves well when they are benched or have to sit out for a long period of time, and that speaks to the character of this team. That they are willing to do anything and everything to win.

Ryan Reaves echos a similar message to that of Coach Gallant’s, how he must be willing to do anything necessary to help the team win. “You just stay ready,” Reaves told the Las Vegas Sun. “You work during practice and after practice to make sure you’re ready for the game pace. I was keeping it simple but playing hungry still. In playoff hockey everything gets ramped up so I definitely didn’t want to pick up where I left off, that’s for sure.” Reaves had 8 hits in 10 total minutes of ice time in Game 6.

The Golden Knights are now relaxing and resetting before their next series. It will be a few days before the Western Conference Finals begin. Rest is alway an important factor when the postseason comes around, and at this point of the playoffs, it can only help the Golden Knights as they continue their journey for the Lord Stanley’s Cup.

Vegas is now onto the Western Conference Finals, where they will travel to Canada to face the Winnipeg Jets for the conference title. And in the Eastern Conference, the Finals are set between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Washington Capitals.