LAS VEGAS (AP) After a lackluster loss two nights earlier, the Vegas Golden Knights responded with an energetic performance in Game 5 to move one victory away from their second playoff series win, and a berth in the Western Conference final in their inaugural season.
Alex Tuch scored twice to lead Vegas to a 5-3 victory over the San Jose Sharks on Friday night, giving the Golden Knights a 3-2 series lead in their conference semifinal.
”We were physical, we were playing well, and it was a very good game by everyone,” Tuch said. ”Every game is a must-win, and at times in this series we kind of got away from that, especially Game 4 … but I thought we came out tonight and we had 20 guys working really hard. It was a strong game by everyone.”
James Neal, Erik Haula and Jonathan Marchessault also scored for Vegas. Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 27 shots, making save after highlight save until things got interesting late in the third period.
With San Jose trailing 4-0, Kevin Labanc, Tomas Hertl and Boedker scored in a 6:09 span to pull the Sharks within one with 4:16 remaining. However, Marchessault’s empty-netter with 21 seconds left sealed it for Vegas.
”Fleury played really well and we left him out to dry a little bit in the third, but I thought we finished strong,” Tuch added.
From a spectacular glove save on Mikkel Boedker’s point blank shot in the first period, to a pair of back-to-back saves before and after being knocked into the goal midway through the second period, or an incredible pad save on Tomas Hertl early in the third, Fleury was dialed in from the start.
But it wasn’t until Marchessault’s long-range wrist shot that the 14-year veteran goalie was able o exhale.
”I had a great view, I was right behind it, it was great, I was so happy to see it going in,” Fleury said. ”It doesn’t matter when you get (wins) in a series, as long as you win. They’re all big. Obviously, it was nice to be home and get that win.”
Martin Jones allowed four goals on 31 shots before being pulled in the third. Aaron Dell came on and stopped all six shots he faced.
Game 6 is Sunday in San Jose.
After looking lethargic in a 4-0 loss in Game 4 on the Sharks’ home ice, the Golden Knights came out refreshed and looking more like the team that won Game 1 by a 7-0 final. Vegas set the tone in the first period, outshooting the Sharks 15-7, outhitting them 26-14, and taking a 1-0 lead.
”The other night we played okay, but it wasn’t good enough to win. You’re not gonna win many games in the playoffs if you don’t play your best hockey,” Vegas coach Gerard Gallant said. ”Tonight we came out for 50 minutes and played our best hockey and really set the tone. We got into some penalty trouble at the end and gave them a chance to get back in the game.”
Neal made sure the Golden Knights didn’t head into the locker room empty-handed after a strong first period. Logan Couture blocked Shea Theodore’s shot from the point, with the rebound going right to Neal, who drilled it past Jones to give Vegas the lead with 3 seconds left in the period.
Tuch made it 2-0 when he tapped in Reilly Smith’s rebound past Jones on the power play.
Jones may still be trying to figure out how Haula scored, as he threw the puck at the net from the goal line and it somehow slipped through to make it 3-0 midway through the second.
Tuch pushed the lead to 4-0 with an exquisite tip over Jones’ glove at 8:36 of the third, while ending the night for Jones.
The Sharks ended Fleury’s bid for a fourth shutout this postseason when Labanc sniped a wrist shot top shelf, glove-side for a power-play goal to make it 4-1 at 9:35. Less than two minutes later San Jose made things interesting when Boedker’s wraparound got loose, and Hertl was in the right spot to poke it in and cut Vegas’ lead to 4-2.
With a little more than four minutes left in the game, and Fleury sprawled out in front of the net behind a slew of traffic, Boedker picked up a loose puck and lifted it over the pile to make it 4-3.
”They came out hard and when you’re kind of feeding them that transition game, they’ll show you what they can do with it,” San Jose center Joe Pavelski said. ” When that score is within two or three, you’re feelin’ it. We knew we had to get in there and create a little bit more. We felt we had a chance for sure. The game got better at the end, so that needs to continue now.”
NOTES: A record 18,693 filled T-Mobile Arena for Game 5. … Veteran D Luca Sbisa saw his first action since Feb. 27 for the Golden Knights, replacing Jon Merrill. … Vegas F Oscar Lindberg made his playoff debut, taking Tomas Tatar’s place on Cody Eakin’s line, while Ryan Carpenter also returned to the Golden Knights’ lineup, taking Tomas Nosek’s spot on Pierre-Edouard Bellemare’s line along with William Carrier.