There were very few who expected the Vegas Golden Knights to be where they are now. No expansion team had ever made the playoffs in their inaugural season, so there was little thought that Vegas would be any different.
After a 1-0 shutout of the Los Angeles Kings - the owner of two Stanley Cup victories in the shootout era - the Golden Knights became the first team of the 2018 playoffs to advance to the second round.
Marc-Andre Fleury made 31 saves and Brayden McNabb scored the lone goal of the night to help the Golden Knights advance past the Kings.
McNabb, who spent part of four seasons in the Kings’ organization has just 12 goals in 314 career games, almost half of which came this year with Vegas. Fleury, the owner of three Stanley Cup victories in his own right, earned his second shutout of the series and was busy early on.
Los Angeles is constantly among the leaders in puck possession metrics every year, and they poured them on in the first period against the Golden Knights. The Kings out-attempted Vegas 33-8 (80.49 CF%), while out-chancing them 14-8 (88.78 SCF%).
Fleury stood strong, just as he did all season for the Golden Knights. The 33-year old veteran of 119 playoff games over his career posted one of the best seasons of his career with the expansion Knights, even with missing a chunk of games due to a concussion.
Game 4 was Fleury’s 66th win in the postseason, which pushed him past Dominik Hasek for 11th on the all-time list. The shutout was his 12th, putting him in a tie for ninth all-time with Terry Sawchuk.
In four games these playoffs, Fleury has stopped 127-of-130 shots, only allowing three goals, and leads all goalies in save percentage (SV%) and goals against average (GAA) with only Devan Dubnyk making more saves so far.
The legend of Fleury continues to grow in Vegas, both on and off the ice.
“He had experience winning three Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins all those years. We Knew when we got him we got a superstar goaltender. We knew that,” Head Coach Gerard Gallant said of his starting netminder.
“He has carried our team a lot. He makes our team better and confident, and it all started with the first 10 games of the season, when we were 8-2. He’s a big part of our group.”
With McNabb scoring the only goal of the night, that gives Vegas seven different players to score in the series, no one getting more than a lone marker.
Nate Schmidt, a college undrafted player who came over from the Washington Capitals in the expansion draft, played over 25 minutes on the night - 15 of which came against Kings’ superstar Anze Kopitar. While the Kings’ center owned the shot attempt chart, Schmidt held Kopitar off the board and finished in a dead heap in scoring chances.
It has to be disappointing for the Kings, who despite finishing in a wild card spot, improved vastly from over a year ago. Part of the reason why is the return of Jonathan Quick, who only played 17 games last year but returned to his usual form this campaign. His 63 starts this season was the third highest of his career.
Quick played well but was no match for Fleury, who only allowed the three goals in four games.
The Golden Knights will now wait for the winner of the San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks series. With the Sharks up 3-0, they might not have to wait too long to find out who they will play.
How do the Golden Knights’ stack up in a potential second-round matchup against the Sharks or Ducks? At this point, is it Stanley Cup or bust for Vegas? Let us know what you think in the comment section below!