WINNIPEG — Ryan Reaves scored the game-winning goal and Marc-Andre Fleury made 31 saves as the expansion Vegas Golden Knights continued their improbable run by defeating the Winnipeg Jets 2-1 on Sunday afternoon to advance to the Stanley Cup final.
Alex Tuch also scored for the Knights, who lost Game 1 in Winnipeg before winning four straight to become the first team since the St. Louis Blues in 1968 to advance to the final in its inaugural campaign.
Vegas will meet either the Tampa Bay Lightning or the Washington Capitals in the Cup final. Tampa Bay leads the Eastern Conference final 3-2, with Game 6 set for Monday in Washington.
Josh Morrissey replied for the Jets, who got 30 saves from Connor Hellebuyck.
Reaves, a bruising Winnipeg native acquired from the Pittsburgh Penguins prior to the trade deadline in February, snapped a 1-1 tie with 6:39 left in the second period when he tipped Luca Sbisa’s point shot past Hellebuyck for his first of the playoffs.
Winnipeg got a power play early in the third, but couldn’t muster much of anything. The Knights smothered much of the Jets’ attack for the next 10 minutes, with Hellebuyck having to come up with a big stops on William Karlsson and Eric Haula to keep his team within one.
The Jets pressed with under four minutes to go, with Fleury stopping Winnipeg captain Blake Wheeler on the doorstep, but it wasn’t nearly enough as the Knights closed out their third straight series on the road.
The Jets beat the Knights 4-2 in Game 1, but Vegas snatched home ice with a 3-1 victory in Game 2 before picking up 4-2 and 3-2 wins at T-Mobile Arena to take a commanding 3-1 series lead.
The Knights, whose jaw-dropping inaugural 109-point campaign included a Pacific Division crown, swept the Los Angeles Kings in the first round before the San Jose Sharks succumbed in six games.
The Jets, meanwhile, had the NHL’s second-best record with 114 points in the regular season. They advanced to the first conference final in city’s history with a five-game defeat of the Minnesota Wild in the opening round before topping the Presidents’ Trophy winning Nashville Predators in Game 7 on the road.
The usual raucous, white-clad crowd at Bell MTS Place — not to mention the thousands of fans outside the arena attending a street party on a sun-drenched spring afternoon — were silenced just 5:11 into Sunday’s game when Tuch jumped on a Morrissey turnover and fired his sixth past Hellebuyck.
The Jets were tentative to start and it got worse after the opener as Vegas dominated the next couple of shifts, forcing some good saves from Hellebuyck before Winnipeg got its feet moving.
After trailing 7-1 on the shot clock seven minutes in, the Jets finally pushed back and turned the tide with the next nine attempts on goal, culminating with Morrissey making amends for his early gaffe with 2:46 left in the period.
Bryan Little won a faceoff in the offensive zone straight back to second-year defenceman, who blasted his first-career playoff goal past Fleury’s glove.
One of Winnipeg’s downfalls in the series through four games was an inability to maintain momentum. The Knights scored within 1:28 of a Jets’ goal in each of the first four contests — a crushing 12 seconds after Winnipeg tied Game 3, and an equally gut-wrenching 43 seconds after the Jets knotted Game 4 — but they managed to take the game to the locker rooms tied 1-1.
Both teams had chances in the second period before Reaves made it 2-1, with Jets centre Mathieu Perrault just missing on a pass from Little that had too much mustard in front.
Right after Reaves scored the second playoff goal of his career — and first since 2015 with St. Louis — Winnipeg’s Nikolaj Ehlers rang a shot off the post on Fleury.
The Jets were an NHL-best 32-7-2 at home in the regular season, but were a pedestrian 5-4 in the playoffs, including losses in four of their last five post-season outings. Winnipeg had won a combined 13 straight at home before dropping a 2-1 decision in Game 4 against Nashville.
Notes: With his team facing elimination, Jets head coach Paul Maurice rolled the dice by inserting defencemen Dmitry Kulikov and Joe Morrow in the lineup for Toby Enstrom and Ben Chiarot. Kulikov hadn’t played since injuring his back on March 8, while Morrow last suited up April 20 in Game 5 of the Minnesota series. Joel Armia also drew back in on the fourth line in place of Andrew Copp. … Vegas centre Jonathan Marchessault has eight goals and 10 assists in these playoffs to tie the record for most points in a team’s first trip to the playoffs with Jude Drouin of the 1975 New York Islanders and Igor Larionov of the 1994 San Jose Sharks.
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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press