The Vegas Golden Knights’ big guns were blazing and goaltender Robin Lehner recorded his first career playoff shutout to beat the Vancouver Canucks 5-0 in NHL playoff action Sunday.
Lehner turned aside 26 shots as the Golden Knights grabbed a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
Reilly Smith, Jonathan Marchessault, Alex Tuch, Mark Stone, and Max Pacioretty did the scoring, chasing Vancouver starter Jacob Markstrom from the net.
Markstrom, making his 11th consecutive playoff start, stopped 29-of-34 shots and was pulled midway through the third period for Thatcher Demko after allowing the fifth goal.
The Canucks had just tiny handful of dangerous scoring chances. It’s the first time they have been shut out since losing 3-0 to the Minnesota Wild in the first game of their qualifying series.
Game 2 goes Tuesday at Rogers Place.
Lehner is 9-1 since being acquired at the trade deadline in a three-team deal including the Toronto Maple Leafs and Chicago Blackhawks, and appears to have displaced Marc-Andre Fleury as the starter.
His win won’t do anything to cool down a goaltending controversy that flared up over the weekend when Fleury’s agent tweeted a doctored photo suggesting Vegas head coach Peter DeBoer is stabbing Fleury in the back.
The Golden Knights had not played since dispatching the Blackhawks Tuesday in the first round, but didn’t show any rust.
They pushed the Canucks hard on the forecheck, creating a lot of dangerous chances and leading to the first goal midway through the first period. Smith, circling behind the net fired the puck through the crease that bounced off a skate to Marchessault for him to tuck in behind Markstrom.
They scored three times in the second period to put the game away. Smith scored off a rebound on the power play. Then Stone, standing in the slot, redirected a wrist shot from Nate Schmidt to make it 3-0. Tuch then chased down an arching clearing pass from Nick Cousins, racing past the Canucks’ defence to shoot low gloveside and in.
In the third period, Stone, behind the net, passed in front to Pacioretty for the one-timer.
Smith, Stone, and Tuch each added an assist.
Smith and Stone lead the Golden Knights in playoff points with 10. Tuch has five goals and two assists. Marchessault has three goals and eight points.
The Golden Knights, the top Western Conference seed, are continuing the torrid play that saw them go 11-2 before the NHL shut down the regular season on March 12 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’ve got to play a lot better if we’re going to win this series…I’ve got a lot of belief in our group, whenever we’ve challenged them to respond, they always come with a great effort.” – Coach Green
— Vancouver #Canucks (@Canucks) August 24, 2020
In the return to play tournament, Vegas won all three round-robin seeding games and then dispatched the Blackhawks 4-1.
Lehner is getting the lion’s share of the work in the playoffs. Sunday was his seventh start compared with two for Fleury.
On Saturday, Fleury’s agent, Allan Walsh, tweeted a meme of Fleury on the ice in his Knights’ gear getting impaled through the torso from the back by a broadsword that bore DeBoer’s name.
Fleury addressed the controversy on a Zoom call with reporters before the game.
He said he is very tight with Walsh, and said he asked him to take the tweet down so it doesn’t become a distraction. Walsh did so earlier Sunday.
“He (Walsh) was just trying to protect me a bit,” said Fleury.
“We all want to win right? That’s why we’re here.
“I don’t want to be any distraction for my team.”
Fleury was asked twice if he knew ahead of time Walsh was going to post the picture.
He declined to answer both times.
Fleury won the Stanley Cup three times with Pittsburgh and backstopped Vegas to the Cup final in its inaugural season in 2018.
Vancouver advanced to the second round by beating the Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues, sending them home from the isolation bubble in Edmonton.
All conference games are being played at Rogers Place, with no fans in the stands and players isolating between contests to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
THE CANADIAN PRESS
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