Updated May 6, 2018 - 10:12 pm
SAN JOSE, Calif. — A few miles from here sits the heart of Silicon Valley, where some of the world’s most popular video games were developed.
So, it was fitting that the Golden Knights bid “GG” (good game) to the San Jose Sharks on Sunday.
Marc-Andre Fleury recorded his second shutout of the series and fourth of the playoffs, and the Knights wrapped up their Western Conference semifinal with a 3-0 victory over the Sharks in Game 6 at SAP Center.
The Knights won the best-of-seven series 4-2 and will face Nashville or Winnipeg in the conference finals. Winnipeg leads that series 3-2 and can clinch at home Monday.
The Knights went 2-1 against both Nashville and Winnipeg during the regular season.
“I was definitely impressed with our second half of the game, for sure,” coach Gerard Gallant said. “I thought the last 10 minutes of the second and the third period was outstanding. It was probably our best hockey of the whole playoffs, to be honest with you. We weren’t scoring a whole lot of goals at that time, but we were just playing real good, solid hockey and not giving much at all.”
Fleury finished with 28 saves and had help from the post/crossbar on three occasions, as the Knights joined the 1918 Toronto Arenas and the 1968 St. Louis Blues as the only franchises in NHL history to win multiple series in its inaugural season.
Jonathan Marchessault and Nate Schmidt scored in the second period to help silence the announced sellout crowd of 17,562, and Cody Eakin added an empty-net goal with 1:51 remaining.
It was a brilliant road performance from the Knights, who weathered a strong start from San Jose and then controlled play in the third period after nearly blowing a four-goal lead late in Game 5.
The Knights held the Sharks to 17 shots on goal combined in the final two periods.
“We learned our lesson after the last game by not sitting back,” Schmidt said. “It’s almost like we were playing boring hockey, chipping it in. We were playing a way that just wore them down, I think.”
The Knights withstood an early push from San Jose and finally broke through 6:33 into the second period.
William Karlsson forced a turnover from defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic in the Sharks’ zone, and Reilly Smith pounced on the loose puck before finding Marchessault alone in front.
Marchessault made a move to his forehand and slipped a shot through the legs of Sharks goaltender Martin Jones for his fourth goal of the playoffs.
“I thought we were the hardest working team in the league coming into the series,” San Jose coach Peter DeBoer said, “and that team, I thought, works every single night for (Gallant) and his staff.”
Schmidt put the Knights up 2-0 with 4:22 remaining in the second period after video review confirmed his shot from the point went off the goal camera mounted under the crossbar for his second goal of the playoffs.
Play continued for more than 20 seconds before the NHL Situation Room in Toronto halted the action and referee Kevin Pollock announced Schmidt’s shot went in.
“I’ve been on both sides before and sometimes it’s just going that way for you,” Schmidt said. “You kind of create your own luck.”
San Jose created the better scoring chances in the first period and controlled possession with a 61.2 percent Corsi For percentage (30-19 shot attempts). And the Knights struggled to contain Tomas Hertl and Logan Couture for the fifth consecutive game.
Hertl had a partial breakaway midway through the first period after the Knights were caught in a bad line change, but his shot hit the post. Moments later, Couture fanned on his attempt from close range.
San Jose also threatened late in the first when Brent Burns sent a shot through traffic that Evander Kane deflected off the crossbar with 30 seconds left in the period.
“It’s not the prettiest, but it’s a hard road win and it’s a tough-fought game,” Knights forward James Neal said. “To close out the series in their rink, is pretty good. I loved the way our game was in the third period. We did the right things.”
1. Valuing the puck. One statistic tells the story of how well the Golden Knights played on Sunday. They finished with one giveaway against a desperate Sharks team, and that came in the third period with 1:36 remaining.
2. Video review. The Knights appeared to have the puck in the net during an eight-car pileup in front of Martin Jones 5:35 into the first period. But the referee blew play dead prior to the puck crossing the line, making the play not reviewable.
3. Sharks struggles. San Jose has now lost 12 of 13 series when trailing 3-2. They fell to 12-20 in games when facing elimination and 6-19 in Game 6s in franchise history.
David Schoen Review-Journal