Smith scores winner to put Knights on brink of NHL finals

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Los Angeles (AFP)

Reilly Smith scored the winner with seven minutes left in the third as the expansion Vegas Golden Knights beat the Winnipeg Jets 3-2 to grab a 3-1 Western Conference series lead on Friday.

"Winnipeg comes in waves but (Mar-Andre Fleury) made huge saves, our defense did a good job and thank God we were able to get three past them," said Smith.

The Golden Knights have won three straight games after dropping the series opener and now have a chance to advance to the Stanley Cup finals in their inaugural season with a victory on Sunday in Winnipeg.

"It is hard to close out teams. But we have got to do our best to go into Winnipeg and stick to our game plan," Smith said.

Smith took advantage of a miscue by Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien at the Knights' blueline, then raced down the left wing and snapped a shot over the shoulder of Jets netminder Connor Hellebuyck and off the crossbar to break a 2-2 tie.

William Karlsson and Tomas Nosek also scored and goaltender Fleury stopped 36 shots for the Golden Knights, who improved to 6-1 at home in their first ever postseason.

"I am just living in the moment," Karlsson said. "This is the time of my life."

The Jets outshot Vegas 37-29 and controlled much of the play but still came out with the loss.

"We got away with a win," said Karlsson.

The Golden Knights were 500-1 betting underdogs to win the Stanley Cup to begin the season and are now just one victory away from advancing to the Stanley Cup finals.

Friday was almost a must-win game for the Jets because NHL teams that take a 3-1 series lead have gone on to win the series more than 90 percent of the time.

Finland's Patrik Laine scored the first goal for Winnipeg at 9:29 of the second period to tie it 1-1. He finished with a game high seven shots for the Jets who had been getting most of their scoring in the series so far from one player, Mark Scheifele.

Scheifele had five shots Friday but failed get one past Fleury.

Defenseman Tyler Myers also scored for Winnipeg.