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Golden Knights fueled by Fleury, airtight defense in sweep of Kings

Ability to roll four lines, kill key penalties help Vegas win first playoff series, advance to second round

by Danny Webster / NHL.com Correspondent

LAS VEGAS -- The Vegas Golden Knights' historic season will continue into the Western Conference Second Round.

Playing their first Stanley Cup Playoff series, the Golden Knights completed a four-game sweep of the Los Angeles Kings. Vegas became the second NHL team to sweep its first postseason series, joining the 1970 Pittsburgh Penguins, but first to do so in its inaugural season.

The Golden Knights will have home-ice advantage against either the San Jose Sharks or Anaheim Ducks in the second round.

 

[RELATED: Fleury, Vegas make playoff history | Complete Golden Knights vs. Sharks series coverage]

 

Here are 5 reasons the Golden Knights advanced to the second round:

 

1. Fleury's dominance

Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury ended the regular season with a 2.24 goals-against average and.927 save percentage, each the best in his 14 NHL seasons. 

In the first round against the Kings, he was even better. He allowed three goals on 130 shots in four games, a goals-against average of 0.65, with two shutouts. He had a .977 save percentage, the second best in a single Stanley Cup Playoff series since 2006 (Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask had a .985 save percentage in the 2013 Eastern Conference Final against Fleury and the Penguins).

Fleury outdueled just-as-impressive Jonathan Quick, who had a 1.55 GAA and .947 save percentage for Los Angeles.

"They were all close games," Fleury said. "It was a close series from start to finish. We played well. I thought our team played great."

 

2. L.A.'s offense silenced

The Kings had the best scoring defense in the NHL this season, allowing 2.46 goals per game. Their offense, led by center Anze Kopitar, was at the middle of the pack (16th) but expected to perform.

A Hart Trophy candidate, Kopitar had 92 points (35 goals, 57 assists) during the regular season, an NHL career high. The Golden Knights held him to two points (one goal, one assist). 

Though the Golden Knights offense was not at its usual high-scoring pace, the defense did enough to limit Los Angeles.

 

3. Rolling four lines

Coach Gerard Gallant has emphasized the depth of his roster all season, and it showed in this series.

All but one Vegas skater (forward William Carrier, 9:09) averaged at least 10 minutes of ice time. Vegas' first line of William Karlsson (23:28), Jonathan Marchessault (21:36) and Reilly Smith (21:14) led the forwards. The fourth line of Carrier, Tomas Nosek (13:46) and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (13:43) showed Gallant's willingness to rotate his forwards and keep them fresh.

"I like my fourth line," Gallant said. "They work hard and compete hard. I love what my guys do for me."

Video: Fleury shines again as Golden Knights sweep Kings

 

4. Timely penalty kills

Given how close this series was on the scoreboard, with the Golden Knights outscoring the Kings 7-3, Los Angeles could not score on several key power plays that could have changed the complexion of the series.

In Game 2, during the first overtime, the Golden Knights killed a delay of game penalty on Bellemare, with the Kings getting one shot on goal. In Game 3, Vegas killed a Marchessault high-sticking penalty, called at 19:58 of the second period, trailing 1-0. The Golden Knights scored three goals in the third.

And in Game 4, with a 1-0 lead, Vegas killed a Smith tripping penalty called at 12:16 of the third period. 

The Golden Knights killed 12 of 13 penalties in the series.

"[Los Angeles'] power play is really dangerous," Gallant said. "Kopitar is such a good player and he finds people well. Penalty kill was a big part of our game tonight."

 

5. Balanced score sheet

Seven Golden Knights scored in the series, including Karlsson, who had 43 goals to lead Vegas during the regular season. Also scoring for the Golden Knights were forwards Alex Tuch, James Neal and Erik Haula, center Cody Eakin and defensemen Shea Theodore and Brayden McNabb.

Haula scored the game-winner at 15:23 of double overtime in Game 2. McNabb scored the lone goal of Game 4, his first in nine playoff games, at 4:04 of the second period.

***

 

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