The Vegas Golden Knights have reached new heights. They will play for the Stanley Cup in their inaugural season.
Ryan Reaves scored the winning goal with 6:39 to play in the second period as the Golden Knights defeated the Winnipeg Jets, 2-1, in Game 5 of the Western Conference Final Sunday afternoon. The Golden Knights won the series four games to one, taking four straight games after losing Game 1 in Winnipeg on May 12.
If Winnipeg native Reaves was the goal-scoring hero, goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury was the defensive star, stopping 31 of the 32 shots he faced. In all, Fleury -- who won three Stanley Cups as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins before he was scooped up by Vegas -- allowed just seven goals on 135 shots in the four wins against the Jets for a save percentage of .948.
The last time an expansion team made the Stanley Cup Final was in 1968, when the St. Louis Blues beat out five other NHL newcomers to win the West Division, as it was then called.
By contrast, the Golden Knights began play in the competitive Pacific Division, which included the perennially contending Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings, and San Jose Sharks. Vegas topped the division by eight points in the regular season, then swept the Kings and knocked off the Sharks in six games to reach the conference final.
Fittingly for a franchise that has defied all expectations, alternate captain Deryk Engelland not only touched the Clarence Campbell Bowl in defiance of NHL tradition, but grabbed it with both hands and skated it off the ice.
The Golden Knights will face either the Washington Capitals or the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Stanley Cup Final. Tampa Bay leads Washington three games to two in the Eastern Conference Final, with Game 6 to be played Monday night in Washington.
The Jets had the NHL's second-best record with 114 points in the regular season. They advanced to the first conference final in city's history with a five-game victory over the Minnesota Wild in the opening round before topping the Presidents' Trophy-winning Nashville Predators in Game 7 on the road.
The usual raucous, white-clad crowd at Bell MTS Place -- not to mention the thousands of fans outside the arena attending a street party on a sun-drenched spring afternoon -- were silenced just 5:11 into Game 5 when Alex Tuch jumped on Josh Morrissey's turnover and fired his sixth past Connor Hellebuyck.
The Jets were tentative to start and it got worse after the opener as Vegas dominated the next couple of shifts, forcing some good saves from Hellebuyck before Winnipeg got its feet moving.
After being outshot 7-1 in the first 7 minutes, the Jets finally pushed back and turned the tide with the next nine attempts on goal, culminating with Morrissey making amends for his early gaffe with 2:46 left in the period.
Bryan Little won a faceoff in the offensive zone straight back to second-year defenseman, who blasted his first career playoff goal past Fleury's glove.
One of Winnipeg's downfalls in the series through four games was an inability to maintain momentum. The Knights scored within 1:28 of a Jets' goal in each of the first four games -- a crushing 12 seconds after Winnipeg tied Game 3, and an equally gut-wrenching 43 seconds after the Jets knotted Game 4 -- but they managed to take the game to the locker rooms tied 1-1.
Both teams had chances in the second period before Reaves made it 2-1 on a deflected shot by Luca Sbisa, with Jets center Mathieu Perrault just missing on a pass from Little that had too much speed.
Right after Reaves scored the second playoff goal of his career -- and first since 2015 with St. Louis -- Winnipeg's Nikolaj Ehlers rang a shot off the post on Fleury.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.