Golden Knights look to close out Jets

WINNIPEG, Manitoba -- If you had put money down last fall on the Vegas Golden Knights to qualify for the playoffs, let alone the Stanley Cup Final, you would have run the risk of being committed to an insane asylum.

Well, prepare to be fitted for a straitjacket.

The first-year franchise stands on the precipice of representing the Western Conference in the battle for Lord Stanley's cup after defeating the Winnipeg Jets 3-2 at home on Friday night to take a 3-1 stranglehold on the best-of-seven series.

The Golden Knights hope to punch their ticket against the Washington Capitals or the Tampa Bay Lightning by beating the Jets on Sunday afternoon at Bell MTS Place.

Since winning the series opener 4-2 last Saturday, the Jets have lost three straight games, something they haven't done in more than a year.

The Golden Knights have made a habit of quashing the Jets' momentum in each of the last three games by scoring within two shifts of Winnipeg tying the score, In fact, the momentum lasted a total of 143 seconds in all three games, including just 12 seconds in Game 3.

After the Jets outshot the Golden Knights 37-29 on Friday and utterly dominated the third period, Winnipeg coach Paul Maurice was far from despondent, calling Game 4 his team's finest hour.

"We like a lot of things that we did. You know, stiff opponent, they don't make it easy on you," he said at his postgame press conference. "But the work level and the compete level was really good (from) start to finish. So that's what you ask of your group, to come out and compete as hard as they can. There are always going to be things you think you can do better, move the puck a little cleaner. But you had 85 shot attempts. You're playing in the right end of the rink."

Vegas forward James Neal is eager to make up for last year's shortcomings when he played for the Nashville Predators, who were defeated by Pittsburgh in the 2017 finals.

"We're one win away, of course, but we have to keep battling," he told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. "We can't take our foot off the gas now. We have to continue to grow and get better, and we'll do that."

If necessary, Game 6 would be back in Las Vegas on Tuesday.

If the Golden Knights can win one of the next three games, they won't be the first NHL expansion franchise to make the finals, but they'll certainly be the most remarkable.

When the St. Louis Blues played the Montreal Canadiens in the spring of 1968, they represented the West Division, made up entirely of expansion franchises, so one first-year team was going to make it no matter what. The Blues were swept in four games.

And when the Toronto Arenas won the Cup in 1918, there were only four teams in the league at the start of the regular season and only three at the end, after the folding of the Montreal Wanderers after their rink burned down.

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