Sunday’s NHL playoffs: Vegas closes in on series sweep
Los Angeles — James Neal scored the tiebreaking goal with 5:37 to play, and the Vegas Golden Knights rallied from a third-period deficit to move to the brink of the expansion franchise’s first playoff series victory with a 3-2 win over the Los Angeles Kings on Sunday night.
Cody Eakin tied it with 13:50 left, and William Karlsson scored 21 seconds after Neal’s goal in a third-period flurry for the Golden Knights, whose storybook debut season just keeps getting more exciting and more outlandish.
After opening their first postseason series with two home wine, the hockey upstarts from the desert took a 3-0 series lead by coolly winning their first road playoff game in front of an angry sellout crowd at Staples Center, where two recent Stanley Cup banners hang above the ice.
Marc-Andre Fleury made 37 saves for the Golden Knights, who became the first team to take a 3-0 series lead in this postseason.
Vegas will go for a sweep in Game 4 on Tuesday night in Los Angeles.
Alex Iafallo scored his first career playoff goal in the first period for the Kings, who haven’t won a playoff game at Staples Center since they last raised the Stanley Cup in June 2014. Anze Kopitar added a tipped goal with 2:04 to play, but Los Angeles couldn’t get the equalizer.
Jonathan Quick stopped 23 shots, but the Golden Knights’ three-goal flurry doubled their goal total against him from the first 201 minutes of play in this series.
Neal, the veteran goal scorer claimed from Western Conference champion Nashville in last summer’s expansion draft, put the Golden Knights ahead when he walked in and beat Quick between the legs with a snap shot.
Karlsson then converted Reilly Smith’s pass from the corner with a one-timer and the third career playoff goal for the former Anaheim prospect.
Vegas’ offensive burst broke open a third straight game of tense, defense-dominated playoff hockey between a franchise that won two Cups while perfecting that style and another that didn’t exist a year ago.
Drew Doughty played more than 27 1/2 minutes in the star defenseman’s return to the Kings’ blue line following a one-game suspension for hitting William Carrier in the series opener. Doughty also had partner Jake Muzzin back by his side after he missed the previous seven games with an upper-body injury.
The Golden Knights opened the series with the first two playoff victories in franchise history before their usual raucous fans on the Strip. The Kings kept it close in both games, losing in double overtime in Game 2, but never managed to take a lead on Vegas because they only scored one goal in the two combined games.
Back at Staples Center, the Kings looked more comfortable – but only marginally in this razor-thin series.
The Kings took their first lead of the series 13:14 into Game 3 when Iafallo roofed a shot behind Fleury so quickly that it was initially waved off by the officials, who eventually reversed themselves. Iafallo, the speedy Los Angeles rookie who became a surprise top-liner this season, hadn’t scored a goal in his last 12 games since March 3, and he was scratched for Game 2.
Kopitar and Dustin Brown got assists on Iafallo’s goal, earning their first points of the postseason. Los Angeles’ top-end offensive talent was slow to emerge on the road, where the Knights’ persistent two-way game and Fleury’s goaltending ruled.
Neither team got much offensive traction in a scoreless second period, but the physical tone of the series remained. Erik Haula butt-ended Kopitar in the face after a cross-check, and Jonathan Marchessault was penalized for retaliating to a hit from Doughty, who then mock-clapped for Marchessault and pointed to his own head.
But the Knights kept pressing and tied it after a prolonged sequence of dominance in which Colin Miller’s shot hit the post before Eakin buried Ryan Carpenter’s cross-ice pass.
Forward Tomas Tatar was a healthy scratch for the Golden Knights. The Slovak scorer had played in all 22 games since Vegas acquired him from Detroit, but has just two points in the last 10.
MORE WESTERN CONFERENCE
(At) Minnesota 6, Winnipeg 2: Mikael Granlund and Zach Parise scored power-play goals in the first period for the spark Minnesota was missing on the road, and the Wild used a four-goal second to roar back against Winnipeg the Western Conference series.
The Wild will try to tie the best-of-seven series 2-2 in Game 4 at home Tuesday night.
Jordan Greenway scored his first NHL goal just 20 seconds after Eric Staal sent a wrist shot past past a struggling Connor Hellebuyck, who was pulled for Steve Mason at the second intermission.
Matt Dumba and Marcus Foligno bookended the furious middle frame with goals for the Wild, who won a postseason home game for only the second time in their last nine contests. Mikko Koivu and Nick Seeler each had two assists and Devan Dubnyk made 29 saves, keeping the crowd loud all night.
Blake Wheeler and Tyler Myers scored for the Jets.
Columbus 5, (at) Washington 4, OT: Sergei Bobrovsky, a goaltender with a history of playoff struggles, looked like his two-time Vezina Trophy-winning self in making 54 saves as the Blue Jackets beat the Capitals on Matt Calvert’s overtime winner to take a 2-0 lead in the first-round playoff series.
“He’s our best player and he was our best player by a mile tonight,” said Calvert, whose one-handed rebound 12:22 into overtime sent the Blue Jackets into a frenzy. “It makes us confident. When you’ve got him making up for your mistakes, it’s always good. He’s been doing it all season.”
The playoff version of Bobrovsky of years past was a confounding nightmare compared to his elite play during the regular season: 3-10 with a 3.63 goals-against average and .887 save percentage. Through two games this year, the second of which coach John Tortorella called “one of the best goaltending performances” he has seen, the reserved Russian has stopped 81 of 88 shots to send Columbus home for Game 3 Tuesday in a place it’s never been before.
The Blue Jackets had never led a playoff series until Thursday night. With “Bob” locked in like never before in the Stanley Cup playoffs, they’re two victories away from advancing to the second round for the first time in franchise history.
“I would say your career is a journey and you learn some things here and there,” Bobrovsky said. “It doesn’t matter what’s in the past. When we’re gonna play third game, it doesn’t matter what happen tonight. Each moment is huge right now, and you just have to be ready.”
Columbus appears ready for anything against an experienced opponent with a history of playoff disappointments that has now blown two-goal leads in consecutive games. Just like in Game 1 when charging and tripping calls on Tom Wilson and Andre Burakovsky cost the Capitals, they were done in by penalties on Wilson and Devante Smith-Pelly that led to goals by Cam Atkinson and Zach Werenski.
Alex Ovechkin scored twice on the power play and T.J. Oshie tied it with 3:35 left to give Washington a chance. When Philipp Grubauer was pulled for allowing four goals on 22 shots, Braden Holtby made seven saves, but now the Metropolitan Division champions are in a hole only 49 of 361 teams (13.6 percent) have dug out of to win a best-of-seven series.
Pittsburgh 5, (at) Philadelphia 1: Sidney Crosby had a goal and three assists and Matt Murray stopped 26 shots to help Pittsburgh silence a raucous Philadelphia crowd and take a 2-1 lead in the first-round playoff series.
Two of the so-called fiercest rivals in the NHL have provided three lopsided games: Pittsburgh’s 7-0 win in Game 1 and Philadelphia’s 5-1 victory in Game 2 could about qualify as nail-bitters in this series.
Game 4 is Wednesday night in Philadelphia.
Crosby scored his fourth goal of the series in the first period, and Derick Brassard, Evgeni Malkin and Brian Dumoulin scored in the second to make it 4-0. Malkin and Dumoulin scored 5 seconds apart.
Justin Schultz made it 5-1 in the third on Pittsburgh’s third power-play goal of the game.
Brian Elliott, yanked in Game 1, had another rough outing and might need to borrow fellow Wells Fargo Center tenant Joel Embiid’s black mask to have a better look at the puck.