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Conference Final

Golden Knights continue to entertain in Game 3 against Jets

Fleury among stars of show that has expansion Vegas two wins from Stanley Cup Final

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / NHL.com Columnist

LAS VEGAS -- Are you not entertained?

The Vegas Golden Knights are two wins from the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season. If that isn't crazy enough, witness the 4-2 victory against the Winnipeg Jets that gave them a 2-1 lead in the Western Conference Final on Wednesday.

Showgirls stood in the stands during warmups in full regalia, plumes of feathers on their heads. A performer flew straight up from the ice and disappeared into the rafters during the pregame show. U.S. Air Force jets screamed over T-Mobile Arena after the national anthems as an answer to Winnipeg's Jets.

 

[RELATED: Complete Jets vs. Golden Knights series coverage]

 

Jonathan Marchessault raced to the rink in a special edition Lamborghini with a Golden Knights logo on the hood and "VEGAS BORN" on the sides, then scored goals in the first and final minutes.

Forward James Neal took an elbow in the face, passed concussion testing, scored 12 seconds after the Jets tied the game 1-1, and set up what turned out to be the winning goal.

Marc-Andre Fleury played like the Joker and Superman, tickling Jets captain Blake Wheeler's left ear during a scrum and diving across the crease to rob Mark Scheifele. Fleury made 33 saves and even assisted on the final, empty-net goal. He's 10-3 with a 1.70 goals-against average and .945 save percentage in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Video: WPG@VGK, Gm3: Fleury jokes with Wheeler in 2nd

Unbelievable.

"I don't think anybody saw us here right now," Fleury said. "It's been a long season. It's been a lot of fun to be part of it. Really proud to be part of this team, and the way that these guys have been working consistently all season long, we deserve to be here and we can keep going here."

Game 4 of the best-of-7 series is here Friday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN1, TVAS). The Golden Knights are 5-1 at home in the playoffs, outscoring their opponents 22-10.

"You get [Fleury] as your goaltender, you're going to have chances to win games, so there's no reason why we shouldn't be a competitive team," Neal said. "We were getting good players (via the NHL Expansion Draft). Obviously, some guys have been a lot better than you would have thought, but that being said, we all came here with the right mindset. No one wants to be left unprotected. So we came here to enjoy it.

"Our coaching staff was great. They gave us a chance to play. They gave guys chances to do things that maybe they haven't had in the past. So it was a fresh start for everyone, and everyone grabbed ahold and ran with it. Whether you had three Stanley Cups or hadn't made the playoffs yet, everyone had something to prove, and we played like that."

Video: WPG@VGK, Gm3: Fleury makes amazing saves on Scheifele

The Golden Knights want this, want it bad, and the result is spectacular hockey.

Marchessault scored his first goal by outskating Jets defenseman Jacob Trouba and avoiding a pokecheck by goaltender Connor Hellebuyck. Thirty-five seconds into the game, Vegas led 1-0, and the place went berserk.

The elbow Neal took in the face was from Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien, a 6-foot-5, 260-pound mountain of a man, about four minutes into the first period. It was inadvertent during a battle for the puck, but it didn't matter to Neal's eye and mouth.

Neal fell onto his stomach, got up slowly, glided off the ice, and had to go to the locker room.

Neal came back later in the first. In the second, right after Scheifele tied the game 1-1, Hellebuyck tried to reverse a puck along the end boards. Golden Knights center Erik Haula knocked it down and backhanded it in front, because he knew Neal would be in a scoring area.

Video: WPG@VGK, Gm3: Neal taps home Haula's sweet pass

"Luckily, it went right on his tape, and obviously he's not going to miss from there," Haula said.

Just like that, Vegas led 2-1.

"It was a little bit quiet after Scheifele scored, and then we got one back and the energy just turned right away," Neal said.

Later in the second, Golden Knights defenseman Nate Schmidt knocked down a puck with one hand on his stick in the defensive zone. Neal carried the puck up the right wing and shot on Hellebuyck. Save. Neal collected the rebound, carried the puck behind the net, and waited for a beat. He found forward Alex Tuch in front, and it was 3-1.

Video: WPG@VGK, Gm3: Tuch buries one-timer from the slot

Scheifele scored again 18 seconds into the third, his 14th goal of the playoffs, best in the NHL, and his 11th on the road, an NHL record. The Jets pushed and pushed and pushed, outshooting the Golden Knights in the period 16-8.

"We're on our heels for pretty much the whole period, and that's not our game," Haula said. "We've just got to realize when we play our game, when we're on them, when we're playing fast, we're a really good team. When we sit back, that's when we get into trouble."

But they have Fleury to get them out of it. About midway through the third, he did the splits, slid to his right and got his right skate on a slap shot by Scheifele. He fell onto his stomach as the rebound went into the slot. But he popped up as the puck settled on Scheifele's stick blade, and then he soared through the air to his left as if wearing a cape and stopped Scheifele again.

"I was having a little fun," Fleury said.

Isn't that what this is all about?

***

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