WINNIPEG, Manitoba — Deryk Engelland posed for a picture with the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl before the Golden Knights defenseman picked up the silver trophy and skated off.
Superstition dictates that most players refuse to touch the award that goes to the Western Conference champions, reserving their fingerprints for the Stanley Cup.
But when the Knights met Sunday to discuss how to handle a potential postgame ceremony, goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury had the final say.
“He’s been the backbone to our team,” Engelland said. “It more or less came down to whatever he wanted to do.”
Fleury turned in another memorable performance, stopping 31 of 32 shots to lead the Knights to a series-clinching 2-1 victory over Winnipeg in Game 5 of the Western Conference Final at Bell MTS Place.
The 33-year-old reached the Stanley Cup Final for the third consecutive season. When he was in Pittsburgh, the Penguins picked up the Prince of Wales Trophy that goes to the Eastern Conference champion and went on to win the Stanley Cup each time.
“They had the best goalie in the league right now,” Winnipeg center Mark Scheifele said. “He stood on his head. He made a lot of big saves.”
Fleury, the leading candidate for the Conn Smythe Trophy as the postseason MVP, finished the series with a 2.02 goals-against average and a .938 save percentage.
He earned his 74th career postseason victory to tie Chris Osgood for eighth place on the NHL’s all-time list.
The goal scored by Winnipeg defenseman Josh Morrissey in the first period was the first Fleury allowed in his past four close-out games. He shut out San Jose and Los Angeles in the first two rounds this season and blanked Washington in Game 7 of the 2017 Eastern Conference semifinals.
”You could argue that he is playing the best hockey of his career, which is saying a lot,” Erik Haula said of Fleury. “He’s everything you want in a goalie and it’s just a privilege playing with him. It’s just awesome to see him having fun and get another chance.”
The Knights struggled to contain Winnipeg’s potent power play throughout the series.
The Jets were 4-for-13 (31 percent) with the man advantage in the first four games, including two goals by Patrik Laine.
But the Knights killed off all four Jets power plays Sunday, including a key kill early in the third after Jonathan Marchessault was busted for slashing. Fleury denied Kyle Connor on a prime scoring chance just before the penalty expired.
“I think we were pretty sharp on our PK,” Cody Eakin said. “They got a few good chances, and (Fleury) was there to shut the door. … Sometimes that comes down to the difference in the game, and I think it was a factor tonight.”
Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck lamented his team’s bad luck through the first four games of the series, when Winnipeg generated more shots on goal and scoring chances than the Knights.
But when asked prior to Game 5 about his team’s puck luck, Gallant was having none of it.
“Are you serious?” Gallant asked rhetorically. “Well, I think we’re playing pretty well. I mean, Winnipeg’s playing well, too. But I wouldn’t say we’re lucky. We’re playing good hockey. We wouldn’t be here if we weren’t a good hockey team.
“Maybe we’ve had a couple puck-luck goals, and there’s some luck gone against us, too, in the series. No, I think we’re playing good hockey.”
Changes for Jets
Winnipeg coach Paul Maurice made three changes to his lineup in an effort to jump start his team.
Defenseman Joe Morrow made first appearance since Game 5 against Minnesota on April 20 and defenseman Dmitry Kulikov played for the first time since March 8 (back injury). They replaced Ben Chiarot and Toby Enstrom on the blue line.
Also, forward Joel Armia, who was scratched for Game 4, returned to the fourth line. Andrew Copp was a healthy scratch.