Vegas Golden Knights: Marc-Andre Fleury Outduels Matt Murray

LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 14: Matt Murray #30 of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Marc-Andre Fleury #29 of the Vegas Golden Knights talk prior to the game at T-Mobile Arena on December 14, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by David Becker/NHLI via Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 14: Matt Murray #30 of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Marc-Andre Fleury #29 of the Vegas Golden Knights talk prior to the game at T-Mobile Arena on December 14, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by David Becker/NHLI via Getty Images) /

The Vegas Golden Knights squeaked out a massive win against the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins.

Before the game, Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Matt Murray shared a moment during warmups. This is the first time these two players met up on the ice since defeating the Nashville Predators in the Stanley Cup Finals. And ironically, they’re now on separate teams.

The building at T-Mobile Arena was electric when the Vegas Golden Knights announced their starting lineups. Former Pittsburgh Penguin Deryk Engelland got a pretty big reaction from the crowd, but there was one player who absolutely brought the roof down. I never heard a louder fan reaction for a player more than “The Flower” last night.

It didn’t matter if you were a Penguins fan or a Knights fan, you were in for a special night. We heard chants of “Fleury, Fleury, Fleury” all night long and it was such a great scene in Las Vegas. After all the buildup and anticipation the game finally got underway, and it started out with a bang right out of the gate.

The Golden Knights got on the board just 1:41 into the first period when another former Penguin “Real Deal”  James Neal roofed one over Murray. Colin Miller went for the shot, and it deflected off the Penguins defender right to Neal who made no mistake. His 15th goal of the year gave Vegas an early 1-0 lead.

Nearly ten minutes or so past and that’s where the game started to shift in Pittsburgh’s favor. They started getting better looks and scoring chances and Fleury had to be sharp to keep them off the scoreboard. Unfortunately, the Penguins struck back to tie the game at one.

Erik Haula tried to chip the puck out of the zone and off the glass however it deflected off the referee, and it started a quick but efficient cycle. Carl Hagelin found Ian Cole wide open down low for his second goal of the season.

The Knights got a great chance later in the period when Brendan Leipsic found Cody Eakin coming across the slot, but his shot hit off the post. It was a well contested period for both sides as both teams went into their dressing rooms tied.

Lots of time passed by in the second period before there was another critical scoring chance. Conor Sheary made an excellent pass on the backhand to Brian Dumoulin, but Fleury was there for an incredible save. This stop looked like the exact same save Fleury made when the Penguins won the Stanley Cup in 2009.

Nothing else to note in the second period except that it was more of a neutral zone battle. Both teams went into the third frame looking for that go-ahead goal. And needless to say, both sides definitely had their chances.

Sidney Crosby almost scored a beauty of a goal, but his shot hit directly off the crossbar. Evgeni Malkin took a chance from out wide that Fleury had to kick out at the last second. And Neal also made a bid for his second of the game, but Murray went post to post for a fantastic save.

With just over eight minutes gone, it was the Golden Knights who broke the ice as Jon Merrill scored his first goal of the 2017-18 campaign. Haula quietly entered the offensive zone and dropped a pass to Merrill at the point who ripped it past Murray’s glove side. The 25-year old wasn’t having a great game leading up to that point as he took two minor penalties in only 15:02 of ice time.

Merrill has been a healthy scratch for most of the season, and he’s only in the lineup because of injured defenseman Luca Sbisa. Head Coach Gerard Gallant may need to reassess how Merrill should be utilized after a confidence booster scoring the go-ahead goal. But with eight defensemen on the roster, it’s hard for everyone to find playing time.

The Vegas fourth line of Tomas Nosek, Oscar Lindberg and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare has a great game tonight. The trio combined for six shots and was in the offensive zone for much of the game. This combination may need to stick around even when William Carrier comes back from injury.

The Penguins tried to push towards the end, but Chad Ruhwedel took a penalty with 2:02 that effectively put the game away. The Golden Knights failed to score on an empty net during five on five play thanks to the puck possession of the Penguins. However, the clock hit zero, and Golden Knights came out on top with a win against the defending Cup champions.

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My third star of the night would have to be James Neal. Neal came to play tonight against his former club scoring the first goal of the game while also firing five shots on net with a plus-two rating. The second star was Matt Murray, and he was sensational in goal for Pittsburgh Thursday night. He made 24 saves on 26 shots and was the reason why Vegas didn’t run away with this game earlier.

And of course, who else would be the number one star besides Marc-Andre Fleury? The Sorel, Quebec native made 24 stops on 25 shots and lifted his team to victory. It was vintage Flower from start to finish in this one.

Next: Vegas Golden Knights Starting Marc-Andre Fleury Against Penguins.

All in all, this was a statement win by the Vegas Golden Knights. Any time you beat the defending Cup champions, it’s a huge lift for any club. The Knights next test comes Sunday against the Florida Panthers at T-Mobile Arena. Catch puck drop with Dave Goucher and Shane Hnidy on AT&T Sportsnet at 5 PM PT.