By W.G. RAMIREZ
The Associated Press
LAS VEGAS — Reilly Smith scored on a breakaway late in the third period to lead the Vegas Golden Knights to a 3-2 victory over the Winnipeg Jets in Game 4 of the Western Conference final Friday.
Vegas, a 500-to-1 long shot to win the title when the season started, can advance to the Stanley Cup final when the series resumes Sunday in Winnipeg.
William Karlsson and Tomas Nosek also scored for Vegas, and Marc-Andre Fleury, ninth all-time for postseason wins, made 36 saves to earn his 73rd career playoff victory.
With the game tied at 2, Smith raced down the left side of the rink and beat Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck above his blocker to put the Golden Knights ahead with 6:58 left in the game.
Hellebuyck made 27 saves, but lost for the third consecutive game despite telling reporters after Game 3 that he liked his game better than Fleury’s. Patrik Laine and Tyler Myers scored for Winnipeg, which is on the brink of elimination.
The Jets took over where they left off in the third period of Game 3 by outskating the Golden Knights in the first period of Game 4, but Karlsson’s power-play goal was the difference. Off the draw, Smith found Jonathan Marchessault, who fed Karlsson for the one-timer to beat Hellebuyck and give Vegas a 1-0 lead.
With the assist, Marchessault (eight goals, 10 assists) tied the NHL record for most by a player in his team’s first postseason appearance, set by the Islanders’ Jude Drouin in 1975 and matched by the San Jose’s Igor Larionov in 1996. Marchessault is currently riding a six-game point streak.
In a case of deja vu from Game 3, when Vegas responded 12 seconds after giving up a 1-0 lead, Winnipeg and the Golden Knights traded goals 43 seconds apart midway through the second period.
First, it was Laine’s one-timer on the power play that even Fleury wasn’t catching up to and it tied the game at the 9:29 mark. Then, it was Hellebuyck failing to secure a shot by Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, who raced to the puck and fed Nosek, who punched it in to put Vegas up 2-1.
Myers’ slap shot 5:24 into the third period found its way through Fleury’s pads to tie it at 2. Winnipeg continued to dominate in the third period, outshooting the Golden Knights 12-2 by the midway point, keeping Fleury busy.
The Golden Knights, who shared third in the NHL with 29 home wins during the regular season, improved to 6-1 at T-Mobile Arena in the playoffs.