Fleury stops Jets as Knights take 2-1 series lead

Brandon Tanev of the Winnipeg Jets loses his stick as the Vegas Golden Knights Alex Tuch defends in the second period of Game Three of the Western Conference Finals. — AFP pic
Brandon Tanev of the Winnipeg Jets loses his stick as the Vegas Golden Knights Alex Tuch defends in the second period of Game Three of the Western Conference Finals. — AFP pic

LOS ANGELES, May 17 — Marc-Andre Fleury made 33 saves and James Neal had a goal and an assist as the Vegas Golden Knights beat the Winnipeg Jets 4-2 to lead the Western Conference final two games to one.

Neal, who left last night’s game briefly in the first period after taking an elbow to the head, returned to score a goal and set up another in the second period for the expansion Golden Knights.

Jonathan Marchessault also scored twice for Vegas, who weren’t even in existence a year ago, but  now find themselves just two wins away from their first Stanley Cup final.

Marchessault opened the scoring just 35 seconds into the first period in front of a sold out crowd of 18,400 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

“It was nice to get a goal early and get the team into it,” said Fleury.

“They pushed back, but we handled it well.”

The Knights will try to take a stranglehold lead in game four on Friday in Las Vegas.

Costly mistakes by the Jets led to the Knights’ first three goals, including one blunder by netminder Connor Hellebuyck who misplayed the puck behind his own net on Neal’s goal.

Mark Scheifele scored his playoff-leading 13th and 14th goals for the Jets, who now trail for the first time in a series in the postseason despite outshooting the Knights 35-29 in game three.

Fleury had to make 30 saves in the final two periods after being called upon to make just three in the first.

Neal and Alex Tuch scored goals just 2:33 apart in the first half of the second period to give Vegas a 3-1 lead. Neal took an elbow to the head from Jets defenceman Dustin Byfuglien in the first period and had to leave the contest to get checked for a possible  concussion.

“It is fine,” said Neal. “The league mandates they take you off.

“We got off to a good start. There were just a few momentum shifts but Flower (Fleury) was unbelievable for us.”

Turnovers costly

Neal returned with a renewed vigour and his goal was key, because it came just 12 seconds after Jets Scheifele scored his first of the game to tie it 1-1.

Neal scored his fourth goal of the postseason at 5:40. Jets’ Hellebuyck misplayed the puck behind his own net and Erik Haula passed it out front to Neal who shot into an open net.

Neal minutes later drove hard into the Vegas zone and went around the net before feeding Tuch, who was left wide open in front of the goal.

Tuch had plenty of time to pick his spot, beating Hellebuyck up high to give Vegas their first two-goal lead of the game.

“They were fast early but turnovers were the story,” said Jets coach Paul Maurice. “We want to make sure we deal with our loss and don’t carry it too heavily.

“Then make sure we come out with our finest game of the postseason.”

The West winner will play either the Tampa Bay Lightning or the Washington Capitals, who lead that best-of-seven semi-final series 2-1. — AFP

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