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Golden Knights ride play of Marc-Andre Fleury to sweep of Kings

LOS ANGELES — They saved him for last back in June, because when you are the new kid on ice and all eyes are cast in your direction, you want the star to receive proper attention.

Marc-Andre Fleury was introduced that evening in Las Vegas as the face of a Golden Knights franchise unveiling its expansion draft selections, the player whose championship pedigree would serve as a template for how to win when things matter most.

For how to make future noise in the playoffs.

No one could have predicted his influence would have such an immediate impact.

Come on.

No one predicted any of this.

Vegas concluded an impressive sweep of the Kings on Tuesday night by beating Los Angeles 1-0 before an announced gathering of 18,422 at Staples Center, ending the best-of-seven series in four games and doing so by climbing aboard the back of a goaltender who is as beloved in the room as he is still talented in net.

Fleury would post two shutouts and allow just three goals in the series, which would span a little more than 275 minutes given that double overtime affair in Game 2, which would include some of his finest playoff work.

It is an amazing continuation of a career season for a future Hall of Famer who lost his job in Pittsburgh, where he won three Stanley Cups and was as respected a sports figure as that city knew.

Many reasons define why Vegas is the first team in league history to sweep its first playoff series in an inaugural season, but none more significant than No. 29.

“(Fleury) has been motivated all year,” said Knights forward James Neal, who played with the goalie in Pittsburgh. “A guy who has three Cups, you would think doesn’t have to prove anything, but that’s the kind of guy he is. I love having him behind us. He’s our backbone.”

The final game was exactly as the Knights expected, and yet if you didn’t know better, watched only the first period and someone told you the guys in white led 3-0 in the series, you would have assumed they were playing a prank.

It wasn’t quite the great storm of Galveston, Texas, of 1900, but the Kings went at the Knights those first 20 minutes like they were going to level every structure, um, Vegas player, in sight.

Think about it: The Kings in the period had 2:13 of offensive possession compared with 47 seconds for Vegas, and the latter included a power play for the Knights.

“We went through the whole season focusing on one game at a time and it has worked,” Knights forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare said. “One thing we really understand as a team is that when a team comes out of the gate like that and hits hard and is playing physical everywhere, if we just keep making the right play, by the time the third period comes, we will be fine.”

That’s the thing, though. Vegas didn’t make many right plays to start.

It was sloppy. It seemed as though the Knights forgot how to pass.

But as disjointed as things were elsewhere, Fleury was as sharp as he has been all season. He would stop all 31 shots of the Kings, compiling an 0.66 goals-against average and .977 save percentage for the series.

Which are, of course, ridiculous numbers.

Up next for Vegas: A best-of-seven series against the winner of San Jose-Anaheim, which, unless the Ducks rally from a 3-0 deficit, will be a Sharks team that will try to solve Fleury playing at the highest of levels.

“We have played hard and consistent all season long,” Fleury said. “Every situation is different, right? The team was great in front of me all series, not giving up many scoring chances. I don’t think I’ve given up (three goals in 275-plus minutes).

“A little unusual, maybe, but I will take it.”

So will the franchise that introduced him last in June, the idea being that perhaps his championship pedigree and experience could serve as a template years down the road when Vegas was good enough to actually make the playoffs and generate a serious run.

Ten months later, that time has incredibly arrived.

No one could have predicted any of this, but the face of the franchise has made it so.

Don’t be surprised if that sound you hear from Pittsburgh is one of serious regret.

More Golden Knights: Follow all of our Golden Knights coverage online at reviewjournal.com/GoldenKnights and @HockeyinVegas on Twitter.

Contact columnist Ed Graney at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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