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Knights’ Fleury puts frustrated Sharks on brink of elimination

Updated April 17, 2019 - 12:55 am

Before he danced through a pack of Sharks and seemingly all of Silicon Valley, before he made like Steph Curry with a puck and went coast to coast across ice, crossing over, faking this way, shifting that way, finishing with a reverse layup into a different sort of net, Shea Theodore previewed things to come.

“It’s more about how we want to play well, how we want to get up 3-1 in the series,” said the Golden Knights defenseman following a Tuesday morning skate. “We know they’re going to come hard. No team wants to go down 3-1. This is a huge game in the series.

“We don’t want to go back to (San Jose) 2-2. When you’re in this position, you want to take advantage of it. You want to keep things where they are.”

Which is this: The Knights stand 60 minutes from moving on in these Stanley Cup playoffs, having beaten San Jose 5-0 before a frenzied 18,567 fans at T-Mobile Arena, taking that 3-1 lead in a best-of-seven quarterfinal series they can end in Game 5 on Thursday night.

That will take place at the SAP Center and yet I’m not sure the venue at this point would alter what seems an inevitable conclusion to the series. The Knights haven’t trailed in three straight games and appear squarely in the heads of a Sharks side that is as frustrated as new UNLV basketball coach T.J. Otzelberger was fired up while ringing an arena siren as the puck dropped to begin things.

Talk about a Mountain (West) basketball of energy.

Otzelberger went hard at that thing.

Sure, things can still change in the series. Switches can be flipped. Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh were swept out of the first round, for goodness sakes. Things are never really over until a handshake line is formed.

And even then, I’m guessing it won’t be once Ryan Reaves meets Evander Kane.

A major reason things are close to ending: Nothing separates playoff teams like the skill of goaltenders, and right now the Knights hold a larger advantage in that area than most any series going. They weren’t very good at all over the first two periods Tuesday, despite leading 3-0, except for one fantastic effort.

Marc-Andre Fleury was brilliant, now ranked seventh in career playoff wins with 78.

But while Fleury can steal a playoff game, Martin Jones can barely stay in them any more, having been pulled yet again Tuesday. It’s the sixth time overall and fourth in the playoffs over two seasons and 17 starts that the San Jose goalie has not lasted an entire game in this particular matchup.

This might be where the inevitability part comes in. Jones surrendered just two goals Tuesday, including when he received no help from teammates as Theodore danced and pranced and shifted through the pack for his goal.

It almost seemed an act of desperation from San Jose coach Peter DeBoer this time, replacing Jones with Aaron Dell. A last gasp at trying to change for the sake of change, DeBoer’s way of finding something, anything to get his team going.

The opposite is true for Fleury, who in stopping all 28 shots secured free donuts for the community with his shutout.

“Donuts are good,” Fleury said. “The more, the merrier. (San Jose) is a good team. It’s not over, obviously. It was a big game for us tonight. The guys were great, blocking shots. We just have to go into (Game 5) and play our game and focus on the first period. Don’t think too far head. Just focus on playing the right way. Just play the way we’re playing.”

The Knights were better in the third period and it’s assuredly a good omen — winning a playoff game 5-0 when the other guys are more aggressive for 40 minutes — should Vegas advance and face the winner of Calgary-Colorado.

The Sharks, meanwhile, are an undisciplined side teetering on the precipice of elimination.

This thing just feels close to its finish.

“All it takes is one game the other way,” said Knights forward Max Pacioretty, who had two goals and two assists. “So we can’t get too caught up in it.”

He’s right. Switches can be flipped. Crazy things happen fast. Tampa Bay is already on summer vacation.

Difference is, the Knights have Krispy Kreme’s most popular celebrity in net.

Big, big difference.

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 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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