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Marc-Andre Fleury would like to finish career in Vegas

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The face of the Vegas Golden Knights franchise would like to spend the rest of his career with the team.

It’s tough to blame the 33-year-old, who became Vegas’ showpiece the moment he was taken by the Golden Knights in the expansion draft last year.

Vegas flaunted the former No. 1 pick and he reciprocated, putting up the best statistical season of his career with a .927 save percentage and a 2.24 goals-against average, despite being limited to 46 games because of injury.

“It’s weird, a year ago I was told I was getting too old to play,” Fleury told members of the media on Friday, just hours after the Golden Knights dropped Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final and watched Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals hoist Lord Stanley’s mug. “I still love it. I still have a lot of fun. Certainly, Vegas has given me this opportunity to do what I love, and I wouldn’t want to go anywhere else, and hopefully I can finish my career here.”

Fleury was the talk of the NHL through the first three rounds of the playoffs.

He flirted with history after posting a .947 save percentage as the Golden Knights needed just 15 games to reach the Cup Final, only to see a dip in his play.

Fleury went from looking unbeatable to struggling to find his form in quick succession, never finding the same magic in the Cup Final.

In the five games Washington needed to win the Cup, Fleury’s save percentage never touched 90 percent, dipping sharply to a .853 average.

He ran out of steam, along with the rest of his team.

“It was a crazy year,” Fleury said. “From our team’s success to the support from the fans, the best place to play in the league. There were so many questions going into the year about putting a hockey team in Vegas. I think the expectation was very much exceeded. It was a lot of fun.”

RELATED: After improbable debut, where do Golden Knights go in year two?

Fleury will be eligible to sign a contract extension on July 1. He is slated to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of next season.

Given how difficult it can be to find good goaltending in the NHL, one would have to imagine that the Golden Knights would like to lock Fleury up. He’s not getting any younger, but he certainly looks revitalized with the reins to Vegas’ crease firmly in his grip.

He displayed his skill on the ice and was a model of calmness in the dressing room during Vegas’ playoff run. A good goalie and a man that can lead the charge?

Seems like a no-brainer.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

PHT’s Three Stars: Kuznetsov does it again

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1st star: Evgeny Kuznetsov, Washington Capitals

Four assists in Game 4. Thirty-one playoff points this season.

Kuznetsov is having a historic run and he is showing no signs of slowing down.

He was a question mark to even play in Game 3, but did and had a goal and an assist, and he kept on rolling along in Game 4 as he makes one heck of a case for the Conn Smythe Trophy, should Washington close this out.

2nd star: T.J. Oshie, Washington Capitals

The power-play goal that started the barrage and two assists on Washington’s fourth and fifth goals of the game.

Oshie has six points in four games in this series now and has provided the Capitals with some offensive help outside of Kuznetsov and Ovechkin. It’s exactly what the doctor ordered for the series.

3rd star: Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals

It sure is tempting to put the posts behind Holtby here. They played a part, that’s for sure, but Holtby continued to be everything Marc-Andre Fleury had been coming into the series.

Holtby has taken on the role of being the best goalie in the playoffs at the best possible time.

Yeah, he got lucky on a few attempts, but he also made 28 saves, including six while Vegas was on the power play.

He’s been the better goalie in the series by far and was the wall Washington needed him to be once again.

Highlight of the Night

There are several candidates here — a lot of nice goals scored tonight — but Devante Smith-Pelly‘s stands above the rest, 1. because it was the game winner, and 2. the footwork he displayed to get the puck to his stick was simply stunning.

Key Factoids

It’s been nearly 80 years since a team came back from a 3-1 deficit in the Stanley Cup Final.

And…

Stanley Cup Final schedule
Game 1 Monday, May 28 – Golden Knights 6, Capitals 4
Game 2 Wednesday, May 30 – Capitals 3, Golden Knights 2
Game 3 Saturday, June 2 – Capitals 3, Golden Knights 1 
Game 4 Monday, June 4 – Capitals 6, Golden Knights 2 (Washington leads series 3-1)
Game 5 Thursday, June 7 – Capitals at Golden Knights, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
Game 6* Sunday, June 10 – Golden Knights at Capitals, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
Game 7* Wednesday, June 13 – Capitals at Golden Knights, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)

* = If necessary

MORE:

• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub
• Stanley Cup Final Guide


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Three-goal first period helps put Capitals one win away from Lord Stanley

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There are moments that define every Stanley Cup Final for the team that gets to hoist Lord Stanley’s mug.

In Game 2, it was Braden Holtby’s paddle save. In Game 3, it was Evgeny Kuznetsov’s one-goal, one-assist performance after being a question mark heading into the game with an undisclosed injury.

But Game 4’s defining moment had nothing to do with the Washington Capitals at all, at least not initially.

With the Washington Capitals taking a 3-1 series lead in the best-of-7 back to Vegas after a 6-2 win on Monday, it was James Neal‘s first-period gaffe on a wide-open net that might haunt the expansion Golden Knights for a while to come.

The miss rattled the Capitals to attention and the ensuing a three-goal outburst by Washington only illuminated further the magnitude of Neal’s near-miss.

T.J. Oshie got things started on the power play, Tom Wilson made it worse and Devante Smith-Pelly twisted the dagger on a bad turnover as the Capitals took a 3-0 lead into the first intermission.

Vegas never recovered.

They struck iron three times in the first period and heard that familiar ‘ping’ sound twice more in the second frame.

John Carlson hit a post, too, only his shot caromed off the inside of it and hit mesh not long after to make it 4-0 as Washington’s lethal power play kept its reign of destruction (they’re 4-for-12 in the series now after going 3-for-5 in Game 4). Washington has 20 goals on the power play in the playoffs.

Evgeny Kuznetsov provided the cross-ice pass to Carlson, giving him a hat-trick of assists in the game and his 30th point of the playoffs. Kuznetsov added another late in the game for a four-point night.

Did someone say Conn Smythe?

That trophy could be in the hands of Kuznetsov as early as Thursday night (although let’s not kid ourselves — it’s probably going to be given to Alex Ovechkin) in Vegas as the series shifts back to Nevada for Game 5.

Vegas managed to find two goals (Neal with a hint of redemption and Reilly Smith found twine, too) in the third period, but it was all just a little too late.

If there was hope of a comeback, it was ripped apart by Michal Kempny‘s one-timer with just over six minutes left to make it 5-2 and then cemented by Brett Connolly‘s 6-2 marker as Washington enjoyed a two-man advantage.

For Vegas, it’s win or bust now. Everything that got them this far seems to have fled the vicinity.

Marc-Andre Fleury continues to struggle, putting up his fourth consecutive sub-.800 save percentage performance. Vegas’ treasure trove of goals has imploded and their speed has run out of gas.

Vegas scored six goals in Game 1 but has just five in the three games that followed.

And they now own the most daunting of tasks: win three in a row.

The math isn’t good.

Stanley Cup Final schedule
Game 1 Monday, May 28 – Golden Knights 6, Capitals 4
Game 2 Wednesday, May 30 – Capitals 3, Golden Knights 2
Game 3 Saturday, June 2 – Capitals 3, Golden Knights 1 
Game 4 Monday, June 4 – Capitals 6, Golden Knights 2 (Washington leads series 3-1)
Game 5 Thursday, June 7 – Capitals at Golden Knights, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
Game 6* Sunday, June 10 – Golden Knights at Capitals, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
Game 7* Wednesday, June 13 – Capitals at Golden Knights, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)

* = If necessary

MORE:

• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub
• Stanley Cup Final Guide


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

James Neal’s miss leads to Capitals’ offensive eruption (Video)

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Oh man, James Neal is going to see this one in his nightmares.

We’ve already seen the save of the Stanley Cup Final. Now we have the frontrunner for miss of the series as well.

Neal found a way to miss a wide-open net from point-blank, firing the puck from the left side of Braden Holtby off the right post behind him, off Holtby’s blocker and back into play.

Vegas began the game on a tear, pushing the pressure in the Capitals zone for the first six minutes or so of the period, but failed to capitalize on their chances after hitting three posts early on.

Neal’s miss proved to be devastating, given how Washington stuck it in sixth gear and began scoring at will.

Colin Miller took a tripping penalty not long after Neal’s miss and the T.J. Oshie promptly ended Vegas’ momentum as he snatched a 1-0 lead for Washington.

With that wound still fresh, Tom Wilson rubbed some more salt in it, making it 2-0 late. And the bleeding didn’t stop there as Devante Smith-Pelly scored with 21 seconds left in the period.

A game of inches, they say.

MORE:
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub
• Stanley Cup Final Guide


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Is the curtain beginning to close on the Vegas Golden Knights?

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Could the weight of everything the Vegas Golden Knights have achieved this season be finally starting to catch up with the sporting world’s best story?

If so, it would be the worst of the worst possible times.

In Vegas’ 100th game as a franchise, they did something that they hadn’t in their previous 17 before it — lose back-to-back in the playoffs.

The Golden Knights cruised into the Stanley Cup Final with a 12-3 record. They swept the Los Angeles Kings and then won a 4-2 series against the San Jose Sharks and a 4-1 series against the Winnipeg Jets.

Hell, they even won the first game of the Cup Final.

Everything was seemingly going to destiny’s plan.

Sure, the bounces didn’t go Vegas’ way in Game 2. And there was ‘The Save’. But no matter, right? The team had gone 3-0 after losing in these playoffs, outscoring opponents 12-7 in those games.

And they were heading to Washington, where the Capitals had only won four of nine games in these playoffs prior to Saturday.

It was a game primed for a bounce back, Vegas’ M.O. this postseason. Instead, the Golden Knights struggled as Washington stepped up their game.

Washington seemed committed to the cause. Alex Ovechkin was blocking shots. Washington moved the puck better, moved their feet faster and throttled the Golden Knights in the neutral zone and clogged up all the lanes in their own zone.

The Capitals’ buy-in was tremendous and this stymied one of the quickest teams in the playoffs. Vegas wasn’t able to bounce back after getting scored on, something they’ve been able to rely on with reasonable probability. The pressure the Capitals put on them continued and continued. And then the final buzzer sounded at Capital One Arena.

There weren’t many positives for the Golden Knights fall back on either. Sure, they scored a goal — but that goal came off an abnormal misplay of the puck from Braden Holtby.

Credit to Vegas, they weren’t leaning on any silver linings after the game. They did produce a few troubling quotes though.

“I feel like we’re a little bit nervous,” Golden Knights forward David Perron told reporters following Game 3. “We don’t make too many plays out there right now. It’s not something we’ve done.”

Perhaps the magnitude of the moment is setting in?

“I think at times maybe a bounce or two isn’t going our way, so we’re overthinking it and overcomplicating it for ourselves,” Alex Tuch added.

This is uncharted territory for a team that has taken the path of least resistance to get to this point.

The goals aren’t coming like they used to and pucks are going past Marc-Andre Fleury in ways Vegas isn’t used to seeing.

Fleury’s save percentage has nosedived in this series. He waltzed into the Cup Final saving 95 percent of the shots he’s faced. That number has taken a near-10 percent hit through three games.

Game 1: .857
Game 2: .885
Game 3: .885

This is troubling given that the Golden Knights are giving up the least number of shots in this series, on average, than in any of their previous ones, including 5.5 shots less than they did against the Jets in the last round.

Vegas isn’t on the ropes, yet. They can reverse this whole narrative with a Game 4 win on Monday night.

But to do so, they have to scheme against a team that is simply out-scheming them at the moment.

MORE:
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck