After being dominated in Game 1 of the NHL’s Western Conference Finals, it looked like the Cinderella story may be coming to a close for the Vegas Golden Knights. Instead, they’re back to doing what they’ve done all season long–shocking the hockey world.
The first-year expansion franchise is now just two wins away from a berth in the Stanley Cup Finals after beating the Winnipeg Jets 4-2 on home ice to take a 2-1 lead in their best-of-seven series.
It puts the Knights firmly in the driver’s seat against the Jets. Since 1973, the team that has captured a 2-1 lead in the semi-final has gone on to take the series 87.5 percent of the time, winning 35 out of 43 encounters.
The Knights have netminder Marc-Andre Fleury to thank for their Game 3 triumph. The 33-year old, nicknamed “The Flower”, made 33 saves, including 30 in the last two periods alone to keep his team in front. Many of those saves came in a frantic final few minutes as the Jets were going full throttle get the late equalizer.
Just another night’s work for Fleury, according to CBC Sports.
“At that point, it’s what we expect from Flower. He does it every night. The third period was not good enough for our group. We definitely need to close that game better.” Vegas forward Jonathan Marchessault.
Marchessault scored two goals on the night, but it was Fleury who stole the show.
Now sporting a 10-3 record with a .945 save percentage, the Vegas goalie was his typical youthful and jovial self in Game 3. While the rest of the players were threatening to take each other’s heads off, Fleury instead decided to tickle the ear of Jets forward Blake Wheeler.
So why did Marc-Andre Fleury tickle Blake Wheeler?
"There were scrambles all around. I felt left out a bit. I had nothing to do and I was just trying to get involved."
— NHL (@NHL) May 17, 2018
Wheeler described the tickle as “eerie”, but after the game, Fleury said he was simply trying to keep himself entertained. “I was just sitting there and people, they were fighting,” Fleury said, “and (I was) trying to have a little smile by myself. That was it.”
From Underdog to Favorite
He’s not to only one in Vegas smiling now.
The Knights opened the series as underdogs to advance to the Cup finals, but now they step back into the role of favorites.
Vegas is paying -230 to finish off the Jets and advance to the Stanley Cup Finals, according to sportsbook.ag. Meanwhile, the Jets face an uphill climb. They’re have +195 to pull off the comeback, but as mentioned, teams in their position of being down 1-2 have historically gone on to win the series less than 15 percent of the time.
The Knights are not only favorites to advance to the final round, but they’re now the betting favorites to hoist the Cup in their first season of existence. Vegas leads the pack with odds of +180 to win it all, ahead of the Capitals at +220, the Lightning at +340, and the Jets at +350.
Winnipeg will be looking to even up the series Friday night at 8 pm EST in Vegas. No surprise that the Knights are -125 favorites to take a 3-1 series lead in that game and push the Jets to the brink of elimination.