WINNIPEG, Manitoba – The Vegas Golden Knights are going to the Stanley Cup Final – with a chip on their shoulder.
“Everybody on this team has something to prove,” Ryan Reaves said. “We call ourselves ‘The Golden Misfits’ for a reason. We’re doing a good job of proving everybody wrong.”
Reaves scored the winning goal, Marc-Andre Fleury made 31 saves and the Golden Knights beat the Winnipeg Jets 2-1 on Sunday to wrap up the Western Conference final in five games.
“It’s insane,” said defenseman Deryk Engelland, who grabbed the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl after the final buzzer to celebrate with his teammates. “Your goal is always to make the playoffs. But if I were to guess I would be sitting here doing this right now, you would be a little skeptical at the time.”
Alex Tuch also scored for the Knights. They lost Game 1 in Winnipeg before winning four straight to become the first expansion team since the 1968 St. Louis Blues – when the six initial expansion teams were put alone in the West – to get to the final.
“It was their time,” Winnipeg captain Blake Wheeler said. “They’re just playing really well.”
Vegas will meet Tampa Bay or Washington in the final. Tampa Bay leads the Eastern final 3-2, with Game 6 set for Monday night in Washington.
The Knights, whose jaw-dropping inaugural 109-point campaign included a Pacific Division crown, swept Los Angeles in the first round, and knocked out San Jose in six games in the second.
“All those records and everything, it doesn’t mean anything if you’re not the last team standing,” Vegas center Jonathan Marchessault said. “I think we have a lot of gas left.”
Josh Morrissey scored for the Jets, and Connor Hellebuyck made 30 saves.
“It’s very difficult to find that positive feeling at this moment,” Jets coach Paul Maurice said.
Reaves, the bruising Winnipeg native acquired from Pittsburgh before to the trade deadline in February, snapped a 1-1 tie with 6:39 left in the second period when he tipped Luca Sbisa’s point shot past Hellebuyck. Reeves last goal before Sunday came 3 1/2 months ago while with Pittsburgh.
“The guys that weren’t playing, myself included, we stayed ready,” Reaves said. “We had fun while we were doing it, but we worked hard so when we were called upon we were ready to go.”
Fleury stopped 151 of 161 shots in the series, and allowed just six goals the rest of the way after giving up four in the opener.
“Everybody’s stepping up at different times,” Fleury said.
The Jets were an NHL-best 32-7-2 at home in the regular season, but were a pedestrian 5-4 in the playoffs, including losses in four of their last five postseason games.
Subscribe to The Spokesman-Review’s sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.