LOS ANGELES — Brayden McNabb was not a member of the Los Angeles Kings team that captured the Stanley Cup in 2014 and affectionately was known as the “cockroaches.”
But after spending the past three seasons with the Kings, it was appropriate that the Golden Knights defenseman helped exterminate his former team Tuesday.
McNabb scored early in the second period as the Knights grinded out a 1-0 victory at Staples Center for a sweep of the Kings in their best-of-seven Western Conference quarterfinal series.
“It feels good for sure,” McNabb said. “Definitely nice to beat your old team.”
The Knights are the third team from the NHL, NBA and Major League Baseball to sweep their first playoff series and the first to accomplish the feat in their inaugural season, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
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The Knights await the winner of the San Jose-Anaheim series in the conference semifinals. San Jose leads 3-0.
”When you think back to early October when the season started, we were thinking about competing and playing hard and seeing what we could do,” coach Gerard Gallant said. “Now all of a sudden, we’re moving on to the second round of the playoffs and we played good hockey. We’ve got experienced guys and a good hockey team, so we’re pretty proud of it.”
Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury finished with 31 saves for his 12th career postseason shutout, tying Terry Sawchuk for ninth all time.
He also moved past Dominik Hasek into 11th on the all-time list with his 66th career postseason victory.
Fleury, who also blanked Los Angeles 1-0 in the series opener, made a huge glove stop on Kings’ leading scorer Anze Kopitar from point-blank range with a little more than 12 minutes remaining in the third period.
“It was such a close series from the beginning,” Fleury said. “When you win those close games, it’s a good feeling. … They were buzzing around us for a while there. But the guys did well.”
Los Angeles is one of four franchises to overcome a 3-0 deficit, knocking off San Jose in the first round in 2014. Kings defenseman Alec Martinez described the team as “cockroaches” because they wouldn’t die that season en route to their second Stanley Cup in three seasons.
But the Knights made sure there wouldn’t be a repeat performance, winning their fourth straight one-goal game in the series.
“Obviously, you can’t win a series scoring three goals total,” Kopitar said. “For sure, we have to give him (Fleury) credit. I thought he was playing really well. We also had some chances that we didn’t score on, so you know, we just didn’t score enough goals.”
After a scoreless first period dominated by Los Angeles, the Knights found their legs and took the lead on their first shot of the second.
Jonathan Marchessault took a hard check in his own zone from Kings defenseman Christian Folin in order to make a breakout pass to William Karlsson at center ice. Karlsson dished the puck to Reilly Smith, and McNabb, who jumped into the rush to create a 2-on-1, one-timed Smith’s feed past Quick at 4:04 for his first postseason goal.
McNabb celebrated with a fist pump.
“I’m not a big-time guy who jumps up in the play, but if there’s an opportunity, I’ll take it,” McNabb said. “There was some space … (Smith) made a great play, and I was able to get it on net.”
Ryan Carpenter nearly gave the Knights a 2-0 lead with a little less than five minutes remaining in the second after a Kings turnover, but his backhander was turned away.
Los Angeles’ best chance of the period came midway through when Alex Tuch tried a no-look, behind-the-back pass in his own zone that was intercepted. The puck eventually ended up with Tobias Rieder, and his drive was smothered by Fleury.
The Knights spent most of the first period pinned in by a tenacious forecheck from Los Angeles and were fortunate to head to the locker room scoreless after 20 minutes.
Fleury made 14 saves and the Knights also blocked nine shots, as Los Angeles held a 33-11 advantage in shot attempts.
Kings forward Kyle Clifford tested Fleury six minutes in with a low shot that was kicked out. Also, Knights defenseman Deryk Engelland got his stick on Tyler Toffoli’s drive from a prime scoring area in the final minute of the period after some strong work along the wall by Los Angeles’ Jeff Carter.
“I think the way we played all year, we should be confident in our game,” Knights wing James Neal said. “If you want to play physical, we can play physical. We can play quick, we’re good defensively. We’re a really good team, so we take a lot of confidence out of this series, move on and know that we can win.”
1. Thrill kill. The Golden Knights came up with a huge effort on the penalty kill in the third period to stymie Los Angeles after Reilly Smith went off for tripping with 7:44 remaining. The Knights were 2-for-2 on Tuesday and killed 12 of 13 Kings’ power-plays in the series.
2. Block party. The Knights finished with 20 blocked shots, as Los Angeles owned a 67-41 edge in shot attempts. Defenseman Brayden McNabb posted a game-high five blocked shots for the Knights.
3. Deserved better. Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick was outstanding again but didn’tget enough offensive support. Quick finished with 20 saves in Game 4 and allowed seven goals in the series.
David Schoen Las Vegas Review-Journal