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Second period surges gives Knights 2-1 lead over Jets

Winnipeg Jets defenseman Tyler Myers (57) makes a save in front of Vegas Golden Knights right wing Reilly Smith (19) in Game Three of the Western Conference Final of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs at T-Mobile Arena on Wednesday night. Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

LAS VEGAS -- James Neal scored the tie-breaking goal and assisted on the eventual game-winner in a stretch of less than three minutes in the second period Wednesday night as the Vegas Golden Knights dumped the Winnipeg Jets 4-2 in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals.

The result gives Vegas a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series. Game 4 is Friday night at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, where the Golden Knights can close within a game of being the first expansion team since the 1967-68 St. Louis Blues to reach the Stanley Cup Final.

Neal's fourth playoff goal came 12 seconds after Winnipeg's Mark Scheifele scored the first of his two goals at 5:28 of the second on a deflection of Blake Wheeler's centering pass from the right corner.

On the ensuing play, Vegas' Erik Haula took the puck from Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck behind the net and fed Neal at the goalmouth.

Neal turned passer at 8:13 of the middle period, making a perfect feed to Alex Tuch at the doorstep. Tuch flipped it past Hellebuyck for his fifth playoff goal and a 3-1 Vegas lead.

Winnipeg owned most of the third period, but other than Scheifele's 14th postseason marker just 18 seconds into the period, the Jets couldn't solve Marc-Andre Fleury. The Golden Knights goalie made 15 of his 33 saves in the final 20 minutes, including two terrific stops on consecutive Scheifele tries from the slot midway through the period.

Fleury also made two clutch saves on breakaways by defensemen Tyler Myers and Dustin Byfuglien. The Byfuglien save wiped out a bad giveaway in the neutral zone in the final four minutes.

Jonathan Marchessault sealed the outcome with an empty-net tally at 19:57, his eighth goal of the playoffs.

Coming off a 3-1 victory Monday night that squared the series ledger, Vegas got off to the best possible start. Brayden McNabb forced a turnover and flung the puck down the middle for Marchessault.

The Golden Knights center outraced Winnipeg defenseman Jacob Trouba and beat Hellebuyck with a backhander 35 seconds into the match as the building roared with delight.

The Golden Knights were the faster and better team in the first 20 minutes, carving out a 10-3 advantage in shots on goal.

Hellebuyck ended the night with 26 saves.

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