WINNIPEG -- When it was over, when the Vegas Golden Knights had held on, winning Game 5 of the Western Conference Final against the Winnipeg Jets 2-1 Sunday to advance to the Stanley Cup Final, Marc-Andre Fleury had to make one more save.
The Golden Knights didn't know what to do with the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl, presented to the Western Conference champion, sitting on a table in their end of Bell MTS Place.
Should they touch it? Should they not, as the superstition suggests? Deryk Engelland, one of six alternate captains, looked to Fleury for direction.
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Touch it, Fleury said confidently, knowing that Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby touched the Prince of Wales Trophy, awarded to the Eastern Conference champion, each of the three times the Penguins won the Stanley Cup while Fleury was in Pittsburgh.
So Engelland touched it. He shook hands with NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly then put his hand on one of the bowl's handles as he posed for pictures. He then grabbed it off the table and skated back to his teammates as they applauded. Fleury was right there, on his hip, smiling and patting the trophy with his glove as they exited the ice.
Now Fleury will lead the Golden Knights into the Cup Final against either the Tampa Bay Lightning or the Washington Capitals. Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final is at Capital One Arena on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN1, TVAS). Tampa Bay leads the best-of-7 series 3-2.
Video: VGK@WPG, Gm5: Fleury on series, going to Cup Final
"He's showing us the way home," said defenseman Nate Schmidt, who called Fleury the "line leader" of the team. "Hey, the guy has won a couple of Stanley Cups, but it may not have been the way he wanted to do it the last couple of years. For him to be back here, it shows how great of a teammate he is and why our guys love playing in front of him."
Fleury won the Stanley Cup in 2016 and 2017 as the backup to Matt Murray. After the 2017 championship, the Penguins decided Murray was their No. 1 and left Fleury unprotected in the NHL Expansion Draft.
He has been the Golden Knights' rock ever since, as he was Sunday. He made 31 saves to close out the desperate Jets, who were fueled by a desperate crowd. In the three closeout games Vegas has played in 2018 playoffs -- against the Los Angeles Kings in Game 4 in the first round, against the San Jose Sharks in Game 6 in the second round and Sunday against the Jets -- he has stopped 90 of 91 shots.
He has won 12 of 15 starts this postseason, posting a 1.68 goals-against average and a .947 save percentage, each the best of the 2018 playoffs.
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"You could argue that he is playing the best hockey of his career, which is saying a lot," said Vegas forward Erik Haula. "Unbelievable guy, player. He's everything you want in a goalie and it's just a privilege playing with him. It's just awesome to see him having fun and get another chance [at the Stanley Cup]."
Fleury, who has played in 130 career NHL playoff games, knows he is setting the tone for an impressionable team, and that his smile and calm demeanor tell his teammates that anything is possible.
Vegas forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare recalled a moment in Game 5 where a Winnipeg shot hit his leg and changed direction, forcing Fleury to scramble and make a desperation save. When Bellemare went to apologize, Fleury laughed and said the save wasn't that hard.
"Since Day 1, I've said the good thing with our group is that our superstar is the [humblest] guy on the team," said Bellemare. "When you have a guy like him to show the example day in and day out; every day he is there. He is like a kid [at] Christmas having fun."
Video: Golden Knights advance to the Stanley Cup Final
Schmidt, defense partner Brayden McNabb and Fleury were the first to embrace as the horn sounded and the Golden Knights streamed onto the ice to celebrate this improbable trip to the Stanley Cup Final.
"You just see his eyes light up and I was just as happy for him as he is for the rest of the group because of the things he has been through," said Schmidt
Stanley Cup Playoffs Conference Final Coverage
Lightning vs. Capitals
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