James Neal played the role of Mr. Clutch in the regular season— scoring the first goal in Vegas Golden Knights history— and it seems he’s found his clutch-touch once again. Neal’s goal late in the third period put the Golden Knights ahead of the Los Angeles Kings for the first time in Game 3 and it only took fellow teammate, William Karlsson, 21 seconds to add an insurance goal.
That insurance goal came in handy when the Kings scored with the goalie pulled, but ultimately it was too little, too late.
Vegas beat Los Angeles, 3-2, on Sunday night at Staples Center and the Golden Knights are now one win away from advancing to the Second Round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Drew Doughty was back in Los Angeles’s lineup after serving his one-game suspension for an illegal hit to the head of Golden Knights forward, William Carrier, in Game 1. David Perron was inserted into Vegas’s lineup in place of Tomas Tatar, who sat out on Sunday as a healthy scratch.
The league’s newest rivalry got off to a quick-tempered start with five straight combined penalties before the game’s first goal in the first period at Staples Center.
Los Angeles forward, Kyle Clifford, tripped up Golden Knights defenseman, Shea Theodore, 5:33 into the first period and Vegas went on their first power play of the night. Shortly after the power play expired, it was the Golden Knights who were guilty of the next infraction— a bench minor penalty for too many men on the ice.
Whereas Clifford and Theodore exchanged some words and went their own way after the first penalty was called, this time, William Carrier and Clifford got involved in a minor scuffle after the whistle.
Though the gloves came off, Carrier and Clifford were assessed matching minors for roughing to coincide with the too many men penalty against Vegas at 7:35 of the first period. Los Angeles would get their first chance of the night on the power play.
The Kings were on the power play for all of six seconds until Dustin Brown tripped Vegas blue liner, Brayden McNabb, and just like that it was 4-on-4 hockey, with the Golden Knights outshooting the Kings (4-1) and the Kings leading in the physical department (Los Angeles had 11 hits nearly eight minutes into the game).
Finally, at 13:17 of the first period, Alex Iafallo (1) roofed a shot past Fleury that went so quick in-and-out of the net at first glance that the refs had waved off the goal. After review, video replay confirmed Iafallo’s first career Stanley Cup Playoff goal and the Kings had their first lead in the series— let alone their first 5-on-5 goal this postseason.
Iafallo’s goal was assisted by Anze Kopitar (1) and Brown (1).
After 20 minutes of play, Los Angeles was leading 1-0. Shots on goal were even at eight aside, with the Golden Knights barely leading in blocked shots (7-6). The Kings, on the other hand, led in hits (28-13), takeaways (2-1), giveaways (5-0) and dominated the faceoff dot, winning 59% of the faceoffs in the first period.
Both Vegas and Los Angeles were 0/2 on the power play after one period.
The game’s intensity continued through the second period as Fleury and Quick made save after save.
Neal picked up a slashing minor at 6:19 of the second period and the Kings were not able to convert on the man advantage.
Almost ten minutes later, after Kopitar had knocked down Game 2’s double overtime game-winning goal scorer, Erik Haula, the Golden Knights forward reciprocated by butt-ending Kopitar in the face. Neither of the refs penalized Haula, nor was there any indication that they had seen what occurred, but thanks to the power that is television, replay exists and Los Angeles head coach, John Stevens, was not pleased.
Oscar Fantenberg shot the puck out of play at 17:57 of the second period and was handed a delay of game minor penalty. The Kings killed off the ensuing penalty and went on the power play with 1.1 seconds left in the period after Golden Knights forward, Jonathan Marchessault, was guilty of high-sticking Los Angeles defenseman, Drew Doughty.
Though the power play carried into the third period, the Kings were unable to convert on the man advantage.
A little over a minute later, Kings defenseman, Jake Muzzin, tripped Vegas’s regular season leading goal scorer, William Karlsson, and served two minutes in the penalty box.
Marchessault had a chance on a break-in on the ensuing power play that went by the wayside after ringing the post and play continued as normal.
It wasn’t until 14:23 of the third period that either team was able to break the tie, but it was then that Neal skated up along the right wall, got to about the faceoff dot in the offensive zone and fired a shot through Quick’s five-hole to give the Golden Knights their first lead of the night and make it 2-1.
A mere 21 seconds later, Reilly Smith won a battle off a faceoff and threw the puck to an excited Karlsson (1) waiting in the low slot to one-time it past Quick and give Vegas a 3-1 lead. Not only was it 21 seconds later, but the two goals for the Golden Knights came on consecutive shots.
Just 13 seconds after Vegas went up by two goals, Perron was guilty of tripping Doughty and the Kings had their biggest power play chance of the night with almost five minutes remaining in regulation. It also helped that, despite the Golden Knights having scored back-to-back goals, the Kings were outshooting Vegas in the game, 36-25 at 14:57 of the third period.
But with a little over two minutes remaining in regulation, Los Angeles had yet to convert on the man advantage, so while the Golden Knights resumed full-strength action, Stevens pulled his goaltender for an extra skater.
The move gave the Kings a spark of life as Kopitar (1) redirected a shot from Fantenberg to cut the lead in half and make it a 3-2 game.
Smith had failed to clear the puck out of the defensive zone before Fantenberg got to the puck and threw it towards the goal, where Kopitar was screening Fleury and ultimately changed the direction of the vulcanized rubber biscuit. Fantenberg (1) picked up the only assist on Kopitar’s goal.
Quick skated to the Los Angeles bench once again with about a minute left in regulation, but the Kings were not able to score again on Fleury with the extra attacker.
With the final horn the Golden Knights secured a 3-0 series lead by virtue of a 3-2 win on road ice in Game 3. Vegas became the first team to win their 1st three postseason games as a franchise since the 1996 Florida Panthers did just that.
In fact, Vegas is only the 3rd team in NHL history to win their first three Stanley Cup Playoff games, joining the 1996 Panthers (3-0) and 1970 Pittsburgh Penguins (4-0), as well as the first team to do so in its inaugural season.
Despite leading in shots on goal (39-26), blocked shots (19-18) and hits (45-40), the Los Angeles Kings dropped Game 3 on home ice and have yet to win a playoff game at home since they raised the Cup in Game 5 of the 2014 Stanley Cup Final at Staples Center in June 2014.
Neither team was successful on the power play Sunday night, as the Golden Knights finished Game 3 0/4 and the Kings went 0/5 on the man advantage.
Game 4 is set for Tuesday night at Staples Center, where the Golden Knights will have a chance to sweep the Kings on the road. Puck drop is expected a little after 10:30 p.m. ET and fans interested in catching the action can tune to NBCSN in the United States and CBC or TVAS in Canada outside of the local markets.
Only four teams in NHL history have ever come back from being down in a series 3-0. The 2014 Los Angeles Kings were the most recent team to rally from a 3-0 series deficit (against the San Jose Sharks) and win it in seven games.
Los Angeles has been outscored through three games in this series by a combined score of 5-3.