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LAS VEGAS – Marc-Andre Fleury was having such a good time Thursday night, he joined in when the sold-out crowd at T Mobile Arena started doing the wave.
And why not?
Fleury stopped 33 shots for his third shutout of the playoffs, and the Vegas Golden Knights went on to beat the San Jose Sharks 7-0 in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals.
“I’ve always been a big fan (of the wave), I saw it coming around, heard the music going, sometimes I try to have some fun,” Fleury said with a wide smile. “We did our best to stay sharp for that first game and I think we did. I thought we had the jump on them right away and that was a big part of the win tonight.”
Fleury, who improved to 5-0 in the playoffs, got his 13th career shutout in the playoffs – and second straight. He also blanked Los Angeles 1-0 in Game 4 of the first round.
After getting seven goals from seven different players during a four-game sweep of the Los Angeles Kings in the opening round, the Golden Knights matched that with seven players scoring for them on Thursday.
Cody Eakin, Erik Haula and Jonathan Marchessault scored 1:31 apart early in the first period to get Vegas going. Alex Tuch, Shea Theodore, Colin Miller and James Neal also scored, Reilly Smith and William Karlsson each had three assists, and Marchessault and David Perron added two each.
“It was a great game for us, obviously we played a full 60 minutes and that’s what you want from your team in the playoffs,” Vegas coach Gerard Gallant said. “It wasn’t even about the seven goals, it was about how we played the game.”
The Golden Knights, the first team from the opening round to advance, showed no sign of rust after having nine days off since completing their first-round sweep over the Kings. From the opening puck drop, Vegas skated fast, its passes were crisp, and the players were in synch with one another. It has now outscored its opposition 14-3 in five games.
“We got better in practice, we ramped it up, so we were excited to get going.” Neal said. “We talked about having a good first shift and I thought every guy did that tonight. I thought we went to the net well. We did good things, for us I think we have to look at them, they’re going to be a hungry team, they’re going to be a lot better. They’ll be putting that one behind them pretty quick and looking to be a better hockey team so we gotta be ready.”
San Jose, which swept Anaheim in the first round, looked out of sorts by the time Vegas put its first three in the net just 6:02 into the game, and the Sharks lost their cool early in the third period, when Evander Kane was ejected for cross-checking Pierre-Edouard Bellemare in the face after a whistle.
Martin Jones, who stopped 128 of 132 shots in the first round against the Ducks, was pulled a little more than three minutes into the second period after allowing five goals on 13 shots. Backup goalie Aaron Dell came in and finished with 19 saves.
It was the Sharks’ worst loss in playoff history. Detroit blanked San Jose 6-0 in the 1995 Western Conference semifinals.
“We had a laundry list of issues today,” San Jose coach Peter DeBoer said. “It’s obviously not pretty, we know we have to do better across the board. It’s on us to respond now.”
Eakin started the scoring barrage when he deflected Brayden McNabb’s wrist shot from the point past Jones 4:31 into the game. Before the public-address announcer could trumpet the game’s first goal, Haula finished Tuch’s rush to the net 26 seconds later with a sniper past Jones to double Vegas’ lead.
Marchessault made it 3-0 when he fired a shot from inside the circle past Jones, notching his first career playoff goal. Tuch capped the scoring in the opening period when he sliced through four defenders, made a swift move to his forehand for a wrist shot that beat Jones for a power-play goal.
Jones’ night ended 3:28 into the second when Smith threaded a pass to Theodore, who promptly tipped it into the twine to give Vegas a 5-0 lead.
While Kane was called for a game misconduct, Joe Pavelski went off at the same time for slashing, giving Vegas a 5-3 edge on the ice. The Golden Knights took full advantage, as Miller’s one-timer blazed past Dell to make it 6-0 at 4:32 of the third.
Neal, who had a goal overturned in the second period, extended the lead to 7-0 when he took Perron’s pass and wrapped it around past Dell on the power play at 8:09.
NOTES: Vegas’ four goals in the first period marked the fifth tim1e this season it netted four in one period. … It was the third time this season the Sharks allowed four goals in a period. … No. 1 UFC featherweight contender Brian Ortega, who fill fight champion Max Holloway for the title on July 7, was in attendance.
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