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Golden Knights keep on rolling in Game 1 win against Sharks

Vegas only undefeated team remaining in playoffs

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

LAS VEGAS -- After the Maloof family sold the NBA's Sacramento Kings in 2013, Gavin and Joe Maloof went to see NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. They asked about putting a team in Las Vegas.

"He didn't say yes," Gavin Maloof said. "But he didn't say no."

Maloof laughed as he said that. And why wouldn't he be laughing now?

It's not that T-Mobile Arena is rocking on the Strip or that Vegas Golden Knights gear is everywhere around town.

 

[WATCH: All Sharks vs. Golden Knights Game 1 highlights | Complete series coverage]

 

It's that the Golden Knights, in their inaugural season, are the last undefeated team in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They're 5-0 with three shutouts, outscoring their opponents 14-3, after a 7-0 victory against the San Jose Sharks on Thursday in Game 1 of the Western Conference Second Round.

This, after they shattered records for first-year teams in the regular season, going 51-24-7 and winning the Pacific Division with 109 points.

"I didn't think it would work; I knew it would work," said Gavin Maloof, a founding partner, who helped involve owner Bill Foley. "The only thing that surprised me was how good we were, because honestly I thought we'd win 10, 20 games. Expansion teams don't win."

Video: SJS@VGK, Gm1: Golden Knights pot three quick goals

Winning is all this one seems to do -- thanks to favorable rules in the NHL Expansion Draft, yes, but also to savvy executives, smart coaches, hungry players and everything snowballing in a way no one expected.

The Golden Knights blew out a team coming off a sweep of the Anaheim Ducks in the Western Conference First Round. San Jose had been off since April 18, but that was no excuse. Vegas hadn't played since April 17 after sweeping the Los Angeles Kings.

After allowing four goals in the series against Anaheim, San Jose allowed four in 11:43 against Vegas. After scoring seven goals in the series against Los Angeles, Vegas scored seven in one game against San Jose.

"Honestly, the fans helped out a lot," forward Alex Tuch said. "I didn't know how it was going to be, not playing [for eight] days. But as soon as they yelled 'Knight' during the national anthem, I knew we were in for a good game."

While this was San Jose at its worst, perhaps, this was Vegas at its best.

Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury made 33 saves. He became the first with three shutouts through his team's first five playoff games since 2004, when Nikolai Khabibulin and Ed Belfour did it for the Tampa Bay Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs, respectively. It was the 13th playoff shutout of his career, tying him with Turk Broda for ninth in NHL history.

Video: SJS@VGK, Gm1: Fleury silences Sharks' offense

The top line of Jonathan Marchessault (one goal, two assists), William Karlsson (three assists) and Reilly Smith (three assists) was excellent. But seven players scored. Seven had multiple points. Eleven had at least one point.

The Golden Knights went to the net, counterattacked, outsmarted the Sharks. Ultimately, a bunch of guys deemed expendable by their former teams made plays.

Forward Cody Eakin scored on a deflection at 4:31.

Twenty-six seconds later, Tuch raced up the right wing, catching Sharks center Logan Couture skating backward like a defenseman. Tuch made a move on Couture, cut to the middle toward defenseman Dylan DeMelo, dropped the puck in the right circle and set a screen. Forward Erik Haula was right behind and made it 2-0.

Karlsson broke up a pass by Sharks center Joe Pavelski exiting the San Jose zone. Marchessault pounced on the puck in the neutral zone and sent it to Smith. Just like that, the ice flipped. Smith weaved up the left wing and dropped the puck to Marchessault. Drag. Shot. Score. Three goals in 1:31.

Tuch took a pass from Karlsson with speed in the neutral zone on the power play. He said he knew the Sharks would try to stand up at the blue line, thanks to the scouting report, so he took advantage of it. He split forwards Chris Tierney and Melker Karlsson, then DeMelo and defenseman Brenden Dillon. He said he had gone high glove on goaltender Martin Jones a couple of times and thought Jones was expecting it, so he went blocker side and made it 4-0.

Video: SJS@VGK, Gm1: Tuch splits defenders, nets nifty PPG

"We get rolling," Haula said. "We get that crowd behind us. The bench is going. I don't know. It's hard to explain. But it's just one after another. We have four good lines, and we just keep going."

The Golden Knights kept forechecking, kept pushing, kept pouring it on.

"I just like our mentality," Haula said. "We just keep playing. If it's 1-0 or 7-0, we stay calm on the bench and keep doing the right things."

Can this team do it? Can this expansion team actually win the Stanley Cup? Even if you aren't ready to say yes, would you say no?

"It's incredible," Gavin Maloof said. "What's happened here is nothing short of incredible. There's really nothing like it, because it's never happened before.

"Everybody doubted that a team would do well here in Las Vegas. They said, 'Well, hockey doesn't work in the desert. Nobody wants to watch hockey in the desert.'

"Well, we beg to differ."

***

 

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