(Story corrections 5:38 p.m. PT) For nearly a decade Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, when playing for the Pittsburgh Penguins, has dominated the Washington Capitals in Stanley Cup play. No matter what happened during the regular season, Fleury came out on top in a best-of-7 postseason series.
So when the 2-time President’s Trophy champion Caps made their lone visit to T-Mobile Arena on Saturday, it seems the team Fleury plays for doesn’t matter either. Fleury registered 26 stops in powering the Golden Knights to a 3-0 blanking of the high-octane Capitals. It was his 45th career shutout; the first with Vegas.
With the victory, Vegas (23-9-2) regained a share of the Pacific Division lead with Los Angeles – they fell to San Jose, 2-0 – heading into the holiday break on a 4-game winning streak.
“It’s never a perfect game, but it’s nice to get a shutout,” said Fleury. “It was a pretty complete game by the entire team.”
The only way for the clubs to meet in the postseason would be in the Stanley Cup Final. Should it occur, history points to Fleury to succeed. Starting in 2009 and 2017, Fleury eventually eliminated the Caps in a Game 7 played each time in Washington. The Penguins also beat the Caps in 2016 when Fleury was injured, but then rookie goalie Matt Murray held the fort.
Caps goalie Braden Holtby received little help from his defense in the first period, resulting in all three Vegas goals by being unable to break out of their own zone.
Just 2:33 in, right wing Alex Tuch tipped a pass resulting in a clear scoring chance by left wing Brendan Leipsic. Holtby made the save, but Tuch followed up by sweeping in the rebound for a 1-0 lead. It was his 8th goal of the season.
Oscar Lindburg capped a 4-on-2 rush for a 2-0 advantage at 7:39, then then another puck fumble by the Washington defense allowed Reilly Smith fed William Karlsson on the backdoor for a shot into an empty net at 14:55.
Caps all-star center Alex Ovechkin, who opened the season with seven goals in his first two games, had an opportunity to ruin Fleury’s shutout bid with five seconds left. Receiving the puck at the left wing faceoff dot, his undefended blast went wide of the net.
“That was so close – I thought it was going in,” Fleury added.
Vegas returns home with a matinee game on New Year’s Eve against Toronto. The contest follows a 2-game, back-to-back swing to Southern California against the Ducks and Kings, Dec. 27-28.
Knights Knotes – Las Vegas baseball product Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals dropped the ceremonial first puck