3 of a kind: Vegas tips Kings 3-2, closes in on series sweep
By GREG BEACHAM, AP Sports Writer
LOS ANGELES (AP) — James Neal has been scoring big goals in pressure-packed playoff hockey games since way before the Vegas Golden Knights were even a gleam in owner Bill Foley’s eye.
When this most remarkable expansion team needed a third-period goal to accomplish another incredible feat, their dependable veteran forward skated in on Jonathan Quick and got it with a flick of his wrist.
Neal scored the tiebreaking goal with 5:37 to play, and the Golden Knights rallied from a late deficit to move to the brink of their 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 the eventual game-winner 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.
“Emotions were running high, and it’s physical out there,” Neal said in a voice that confirms he has seen this scenario before, even if his team hasn’t. “It’s tough. But a lot of guys on our team have been in those situations before and won in them before.”
Vegas has a 3-0 series lead and will go for a sweep in Game 4 on Tuesday night in Los Angeles.
After opening their first postseason series with two home wins in front of their frenzied home crowd, the hockey upstarts from the desert coolly won 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.
It’s nothing that scares Neal, who had 80 games of playoff experience with Pittsburgh and Nashville before joining Vegas in the expansion draft. With a second straight overtime game looking likely, Neal took a pass from Nate Schmidt, coolly skated around Kings defenseman Oscar Fantenberg and put a shot between Quick’s legs.
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.
Quick stopped 23 shots, but the Golden Knights’ three-goal flurry doubled their goal total against the former Conn Smythe Trophy winner from the first 201 minutes of play in this series.
The Knights make the improbable look easy, but only because of a balanced, hard-working lineup.
“We finally pushed them back far enough to where our guys could make plays,” Schmidt said. “That’s what happened in Vegas, and we did it here. We finally pushed them back to where our forwards could do some things.”
Captain Anze Kopitar had a late goal and an assist, while Alex Iafallo scored his first career playoff goal in the first period. The Kings still haven’t won a playoff game at Staples Center since they last raised the Stanley Cup in June 2014.
“I thought we made a good push here tonight, created a lot more zone time and made Fleury work a little harder than he had to this point in the series,” Los Angeles coach John Stevens said. “But (we) had some critical errors at critical times along the wall (that) ended up costing us.”
Vegas’ offensive burst broke open a third straight game of tense, defense-dominated playoff hockey between a franchise that won two Cups with that attitude and another that didn’t exist a year ago.
The Kings were reeling from Neal’s goal when Karlsson converted Reilly Smith’s pass from the corner with a one-timer. Vegas needed it: Kopitar added a tipped goal with 2:04 to play, but the Kings couldn’t get the equalizer.
While the Kings are down, they know they’re not out: They rallied from an 0-3 series deficit in the first round in 2014 against San Jose.
“Oh yeah, we trust in ourselves, and it’s been done before,” said Iafallo, whose goal gave Los Angeles its first lead of the series. “We look at each other, look across the room, and we trust each other. We can definitely do it.”
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.
Neither team got much offensive traction in the first two periods, but the physical tone of the series stuck. Erik Haula butt-ended Kopitar in the face after a cross-check, but went unpenalized.
“We get a guy (Doughty) suspended for making a hockey play,” Stevens said. “(Haula) butt-ends one of the best players in the world in the face with the butt-end of his stick, so if I was confused before, I’m bewildered now. That’s an intent-to-injure play.”
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.
NOTES: 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. … Kopitar’s 21st career playoff goal moved him past Marcel Dionne for sixth in franchise playoff goals. The captain is third in team history with 45 assists. … Margot Robbie, David Beckham and injured Dodgers slugger Justin Turner attended the game.
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