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Jets vent about Fleury ‘stealing’ another game

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Down 3-1 in their series against the somehow-always-surprising Vegas Golden Knights, can you really blame the Winnipeg Jets for being frustrated?

By just about every available metric, the Jets have dominated the Golden Knights for long stretches, especially in Games 3 and 4 (both wins for Vegas in Vegas). You really have to stretch things by hammering faceoffs or maybe stretching to criticize Connor Hellebuyck. While Hellebuyck’s endured some moments he likely regrets, his biggest sin is probably “not being Marc-Andre Fleury.”

Winnipeg generated more shots on goal than Vegas for five consecutive periods, sometimes to an extreme, but Fleury continues to stop just about everything. It’s all-too-fitting that even the Jets didn’t realize that Game 4’s 2-2 goal was a goal.

During a three-game winning streak, Fleury’s made 30 saves or more, often in spectacular fashion.

The Jets aired frustrations right after Friday’s Game 4 loss, generally expressing the belief that they should be winning these contests.

“We win that game nine times out of 10. Tonight was the one,” Blake Wheeler said, via Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston. “[We] had some looks where their goalie made some extraordinary saves. You’ve got to sometimes take your hat off to a good player stealing a game.”

[PHT’s Three Stars for Game 4]

Wheeler was discussing Fleury, perhaps omitting his name because of the whole … wet willy thing from Game 3.

Myers was in the thick of things during Game 4, too. Along with scoring the 2-2 goal that briefly tied the contest, he also was quite unhappy about a penalty he took, which opened the door for William Karlsson to open the scoring with a power-play goal. Myers echoed Wheeler’s thoughts after this painful defeat.

“For the last five periods, we’ve been the better team,” Myers said, according to TSN’s Frank Seravalli.

There’s little denying Winnipeg’s point, much like it’s easy to understand the Washington Capitals’ frustration in being tied 2-2 with the Tampa Bay Lightning despite carrying long stretches of play. About the only team-wide things the Bolts and Golden Knights can hang their hats on is winning recent games and drawing certain high-danger chances even.

As the Capitals can attest with bleary eyes and bad memories, sometimes that’s how the cookie crumbles in the postseason, at least in the NHL.

The Golden Knights boast a goalie on one of the all-time great runs when you combine Fleury’s regular-season work and his nearly flawless 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs run. The top line of Reilly Smith, William Karlsson, and Jonathan Marchessault just keep getting the job done. Remarkably, the Golden Knights always seem to answer back potential “momentum-turning” goals by the Jets with spirit-crushers in response.

Consider this: Vegas can at least muster an argument that they’re adept at “flipping the switch” when needed.

Either by design via Gerard Gallant or because the Jets turn it up to 11 when down (most likely both), Vegas has seemingly been occasionally guilty of sitting on leads. There haven’t been many 0-0 stretches lately, as Jonathan Marchessault scored about 30 seconds into Game 3 while Karlsson’s Game 4 1-0 tally came about two-and-a-half minutes in. The differences in aggression have been especially stark during the third periods of the past two contests, as Winnipeg’s generated a 28-15 shots on goal edge while rarely breaking through.

Are the Jets generating more chances and hogging the puck? Absolutely, and there’s only so much rationalizing that can be made about playing to the score.

Moral victories mean very little when you need to win three consecutive games while on the brink of elimination.

The Jets have shown that they boast a lot of the elements to put together such a run, but pulling that off against Fleury and the Golden Knights looks like no small feat. Winnipeg can’t let up if the Jets want to get back into the 2018 Western Conference Final, so it’s promising that they believe in themselves. An angry, frustrated reaction is probably more productive than a downtrodden, hopeless feeling.

Whatever the case may be, they need to get to Fleury and get some wins.

MORE:
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Conference Finals schedule, TV info
• 
NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Golden Knights one win away from Stanley Cup Final

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The Vegas Golden Knights only need one win to reach the 2018 Stanley Cup Final. Yes, really.

If that wasn’t enough, the Golden Knights also have three cracks at reaching the championship round if they need it. By holding on for a 3-2 win in Game 4, the Golden Knights continued to defy the odds in taking a 3-1 series lead against the mighty Winnipeg Jets.

(Looks through a thesaurus for more “unlikely” options …)

Game 4 felt a lot like Vegas’ Game 3 win, even as the Jets pushed that much harder to flip the script.

[PHT’s Three Stars for Game 4]

Much like in Game 3, the Golden Knights were able to take an early 1-0 lead thanks to their impressive first line. This time around, William Karlsson cashed in on assists from Reilly Smith and Jonathan Marchessault to get that opening goal on the power play during an opening period that inspired some officiating complaints and involved a bloodied Mark Scheifele.

The Jets managed to tie things up 1-1 on a power-play goal of their own (somewhat refreshingly by Patrik Laine, who played a great Game 4 overall), yet that relief would not last long, as Tomas Nosek restored Vegas’ lead once again. Just like in Game 3, the Golden Knights would take a slim lead into the third.

For a significant chunk of the third period, it seemed like Marc-Andre Fleury would drag the Golden Knights through another harrowing barrage of shots on goal by Winnipeg. It was difficult to shake that impression through the first half-or-so of the final frame until a Kane-on-Leighton-like goal from Tyler Myers made it 2-2.

That goal and the Jets’ overall pressure made it seem like we’d see overtime and/or a 2-2 tie in this series.

Instead, Reilly Smith finally added another goal to his assists-heavy playoff points total, and it was a big one. Smith capitalized on a bad break for Dustin Byfuglien to score a semi-breakaway goal that caught Connor Hellebuyck by surprise (and caught him off of his angle):

After that 3-2 tally, Fleury gave a wet willy to any Jets’ comeback attempt, continuing what’s shaping up to be a legendary playoff run by stopping 35 out of 37 shots on goal. This is the third straight game where Fleury has been forced to make at least 30 saves, and he’s won all three, allowing just five goals.

Overall, the Golden Knights succeeded in ways that have been paying off for them for much of the playoffs: sometimes-dominant play from their first line, flourishes of blazing speed, and undeniable opportunism.

But, yeah, it’s also mostly about Marc-Andre Fleury.

MORE:
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Conference Finals schedule, TV info
• 
NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

PHT’s Three Stars: Smith’s goal puts Vegas on brink of Stanley Cup Final

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1st Star: Reilly Smith, Vegas Golden Knights

When you don’t capitalize on opportunities in the offensive zone, the Golden Knights will make you pay. After helping to set up the opening goal of Game 4, Smith picked up his second point of the night by scoring the game winner with 6:58 left in the third period of a 3-2 win over the Winnipeg Jets. Vegas now has a 3-1 series lead and is a win away from the Stanley Cup Final.

2nd Star: Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas Golden Knights

Another game, another night where Fleury did his thing in playing a huge role in a Vegas victory. His 36 saves were the fourth-most he’s made this postseason. Winnipeg hit double digits in shots in all three periods, with Fleury stopping 12 of 13 he faced in the final 20 minutes of the win.

3rd Star: William Karlsson, Vegas Golden Knights

“Wild Bill” led Vegas in shots on goal (5) and led all Golden Knights forwards in ice time with 20:43 during Game 4. His biggest contribution, of course, was his opening goal 2:25 into the game on the power play.

[Golden Knights are just one win from Stanley Cup Final]

Highlight of the Night:

Patrik Laine picked up his fifth goal of the playoffs with a rocket from his office:

Factoid of the Night:

Saturday’s schedule: Washington Capitals at Tampa Bay Lightning, 7:15 p.m. ET, NBC, live stream (Series tied 2-2)

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Conference Finals schedule, TV info
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NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

WATCH LIVE: Golden Knights, Jets battle in Game 4

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Game 4: Winnipeg Jets at Vegas Golden Knights, 8 p.m. ET (Golden Knights lead series 2-1)
NBCSN
Call: Kenny Albert, Joe Micheletti, Brian Boucher
• Stream here
Series preview

• Fleury, secondary scoring biggest issues facing Jets
Nate Schmidt is underrated star of Golden Knights
These playoffs belong to Marc-Andre Fleury
Dustin Byfuglien keeps finding new ways to show his absurd strength (Video)
Jets’ Ehlers expected to be available for Game 4
Jonathan Marchessault, Golden Knights enjoying lucky Lamborghini

Cheveldayoff, McPhee, Yzerman are 2018 GM of the Year finalists
Conn Smythe Power Rankings: Scheifele, Marchessault make their case

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NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

Five stunning numbers from the NHL conference finals

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The four teams still playing in the 2018 Stanley Cup playoffs are not only great teams, they are all experiencing some all-time great performances on both an individual and team level.

Let’s take a look at some crazy numbers.

1. Scheifele’s goal-scoring: We already know that Winnipeg Jets forward Mark Scheifele has set an NHL record for most road goals in a single playoff run (11) but he is also having one of the great goal-scoring outputs overall. With 14 goals in the Jets’ first 15 games he is averaging 0.93 goals per game in the playoffs, one of the highest marks in league history. Among players that have played in at least 14 playoff games in a single season that would put him ninth all-time. What is extra impressive about that is the fact that his performance is the only one in the top-15 that came after 1992. Twelve of the others all came between 1975 and 1992 when goal-scoring in the NHL was happening at a far higher rate than it does now. The only other recent players in the top-20 are Johan Franzen‘s 2007-08 performance (13 goals in 16 games) and Alex Ovechkin in 2008-09 (11 goals in 14 games).

2. The Fleury wall: Scheifele has even managed to get a couple of pucks behind Vegas goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, something that everyone else has struggled with mightily this postseason as he carries a .945 save percentage into Friday’s Game 4. Among goalies that have appeared in at least 12 playoff games in a season only three have ever finished with a save percentage that high: Jonathan Quick (.946) in 2011-12, Patrick Lalime (.946) in 2001-02, and Jean-Sebastien Giguere in 2002-03. Quick and Giguere ended up winning the Conn Smythe Trophy in their seasons. Giguere did so in a losing effort in the Stanley Cup Final.

[Related: These playoffs belong to Marc-Andre Fleury]

3. Tampa Bay and Washington’s power plays are unstoppable: Special teams have been the story of the Eastern Conference Final with the Capitals and Lightning both boasting exceptionally dangerous power play units. Entering Game 5 of the series in Tampa Bay on Saturday, the Lightning power play is clicking at 30.8 percent in its first 14 playoff games. The Capitals are at 28.6 percent. How impressive are those numbers? Among teams that have played in at least 14 playoff games the Lightning’s mark is the second-best all-time, trailing only the 1980-81 New York Islanders (37.8 percent), while the Capitals is sixth best. Of the four other teams in the top-six, three of them went on to win the Stanley Cup.

4. The Capitals offense: It is not just the power play where the Capitals are filling the net. They are doing it in every situation to the tune of 3.56 goals per game. Since the start of the 2000-01 season only two teams with at least 10 playoff games have averaged more, as both the 2009-10 Vancouver Canucks and Detroit Red Wings averaged 3.58.

5. Ovechkin and Kucherov the best in the business: Earlier we noted the great individual postseason goal-scoring performance from Scheifele. When it comes to career goal-scoring, though, Alex Ovechkin and Nikita Kucherov are the top players going when it comes to playoff goal scoring. Among active players that have appeared in at least 50 career playoff games they are first and second in the league in goals per game. Ovechkin is first at 0.50 goals per game (56 goals in 113 games) while Kucherov is just behind him at 0.49 (29 goals in 59 games).

Data via Hockey-Reference and NHL.com

Related: Conn Smythe Trophy Power Rankings

MORE:
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Conference Finals schedule, TV info
• 
NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.