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.
3rd period flurry
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, defence-dominated playoff hockey between a franchise that won two Cups while perfecting that style and another that didn’t exist a year ago.
More bad news for the Kings: only 4 teams in NHL history have come back from a 3-0 deficit
Better news for the Kings: the last team to come back from a 3-0 deficit was…the Kings in 2014
Drew Doughty played more than 27 1/2 minutes in the star defenceman’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.
Home ice not enough
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.