Golden Knights close out Jets, reach Stanley Cup Finals

An improbable goal-scorer lifted an improbable champion into the Stanley Cup Finals.

Ryan Reaves' tie-breaking goal in the second period Sunday enabled the Vegas Golden Knights to edge the Winnipeg Jets 2-1 at Bell MTS Place in Winnipeg, clinching the Western Conference title for Vegas in its first season of existence.

A roster consisting almost entirely of other teams' castoffs will meet either Tampa Bay or Washington for the Stanley Cup. The Lightning lead the Eastern Conference championship series 3-2, with Game 6 scheduled for Monday night in Washington.

"This is incredible," defenseman Nate Schmidt said afterward. "With this group of guys, we come to the rink, everyone's so happy to see each other. They trust they'll do what it takes to win games."

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The best photos from the 2017-18 NHL regular season
CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 05: Gustav Forsling #42 of the Chicago Blackhawks skates out to the ice prior to the game against the Pittsburgh Penguins at the United Center on October 5, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. The Chicago Blackhawks defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins 10-1. (Photo by Chase Agnello-Dean/NHLI via Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 04: Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins brings the Stanley Cup to the ice before to raising their 2017 championship banner prior to playing the St. Louis Blues at PPG PAINTS Arena on October 4, 2017 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 05: John Hayden #40 of the Chicago Blackhawks is tripped while shooting by Justin Schultz #4 of the Pittsburgh Penguins during the season opening game at the United Center on October 5, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
SUNRISE, FL - OCTOBER 12: Micheal Haley #18 of the Florida Panthers and Brayden Schenn #10 of the St. Louis Blues fight during a game at BB&T Center on October 12, 2017 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
ANAHEIM, CA - OCTOBER 20: Joe Morrow #45, Carey Price #31, Jordie Benn #8 and Joe Morrow #45 of the Montreal Canadiens fight with Nick Ritchie #37 and Ondrej Kase #25 of the Anaheim Ducks during the first period of a game at Honda Center on October 20, 2017 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 26: Josh Jooris #19 of the Carolina Hurricanes and Nazem Kadri #43 of the Toronto Maple Leafs battle for the puck during the second period at the Air Canada Centre on October 26, 2017 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images)
OTTAWA, ON - OCTOBER 30: Alex Galchenyuk #27 of the Montreal Canadiens shoots the puck past Craig Anderson #41 of the Ottawa Senators in the second period at Canadian Tire Centre on October 30, 2017 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 08: The New York Rangers defend the net against the Boston Bruins during the third period at Madison Square Garden on November 8, 2017 in New York City. The Rangers defeated the Bruins 4-2. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 16: Christian Folin #5 of the Los Angeles Kings checks Danton Heinen #43 of the Boston Bruins during the second period at Staples Center on November 16, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
MONTREAL, QC - DECEMBER 09: Patrick Maroon #19 of the Edmonton Oilers jumps in front of goaltender Antti Niemi #37 of the Montreal Canadiens during the NHL game at the Bell Centre on December 9, 2017 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The Edmonton Oilers defeated the Montreal Canadiens 6-2. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 11: Brock Nelson #29 of the New York Islanders scores at 2:36 of the first period against Braden Holtby #70 of the Washington Capitals at the Barclays Center on December 11, 2017 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
COLUMBUS, OH - DECEMBER 12: Sergei Bobrovsky #72 of the Columbus Blue Jackets stops a shot from Ryan Nugent-Hopkins #93 of the Edmonton Oilers as Alexander Wennberg #10 of the Columbus Blue Jackets attempts to clear the puck during the second period on December 12, 2017 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. Edmonton defeated Columbus 7-2. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 19: Marc-Andre Fleury #29 of the Vegas Golden Knights blocks a Tampa Bay Lightning shot in the third period of their game at T-Mobile Arena on December 19, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Golden Knights won 4-3. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
NASHVILLE, TN - DECEMBER 19: Adam Lowry #17 of the Winnipeg Jets celebrates after watching teammate Brandon Tanev #13 score a goal against of the Nashville Predators during final moments of the third period at Bridgestone Arena on December 19, 2017 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
CALGARY, AB - DECEMBER 22: Andrew Shaw #65 of the Montreal Canadiens checks Michael Stone #26 of the Calgary Flames during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on December 22, 2017 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 10: James van Riemsdyk #25 of the Toronto Maple Leafs scores on Craig Anderson #41 of the Ottawa Senators during the third period at the Air Canada Centre on January 10, 2018 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Members of the Senators from left to right are Erik Karlsson #65 of the Ottawa Senators, Thomas Chabot #72 of the Ottawa Senators, Anderson and Jean-Gabriel Pageau #44 of the Ottawa Senators (Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 22: Ryan Hartman #38 of the Chicago Blackhawks falls over the back of Alex Killorn #17 of the Tampa Bay Lightning at the United Center on January 22, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. The Lightning defeated the Blackhawks2-0. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
EDMONTON, AB - JANUARY 25: Brandon Davidson #88 of the Edmonton Oilers celebrates his goal against the Calgary Flames at Rogers Place on January 25, 2018 in Edmonton, Canada. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)
TAMPA, FL - FEBRUARY 28: Yanni Gourde #37 of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Marco Scandella #6 of the Buffalo Sabres get in a fight during a game at Amalie Arena on February 28, 2018 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 09: Jay Beagle #83 of the Washington Capitals celebrates his goal against the Columbus Blue Jackets during the second period at Capital One Arena on February 9, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
ANNAPOLIS, MD - MARCH 03: John Carlson #74 of the Washington Capitals celebrates his goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs during the second period in the Coors Light NHL Stadium Series at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium on March 3, 2018 in Annapolis, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 12: Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals celebrates after scoring his 600th career goal against the Winnipeg Jets during the second period at Capital One Arena on March 12, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Mar 9, 2018; Ottawa, Ontario, CAN; Ottawa Senators right wing Mark Stone (61) and goalie Mike Condon (1) are both taken down by a fall from Calgary Flames left wing Micheal Ferland (79) in the third period at Canadian Tire Centre. Mandatory Credit: Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Jan 23, 2018; Anaheim, CA, USA; Anaheim Ducks goalie John Gibson (36) is unable to make a save off a shot by New York Rangers right wing Rick Nash (not pictured) during the first quarter at Honda Center. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Jan 23, 2018; Anaheim, CA, USA; New York Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh (27) checks Anaheim Ducks center Adam Henrique (14) into the boards during the second quarter at Honda Center. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Jan 22, 2018; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs center Zach Hyman (11) tries to control the puck as he falls while battling with Colorado Avalanche left wing Gabriel Landeskog (92) at Air Canada Centre. The Avalanche beat the Maple Leafs 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Jan 20, 2018; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Winnipeg Jets center Bryan Little (18) scores against Calgary Flames goalie Mike Smith (41) during the shootout at Scotiabank Saddledome. The Jets won 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Jan 31, 2018; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Travis Dermott (23) celebrates with team mates after scoring his first career NHL goal in the second period against New York Islanders at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Nov 19, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard (35) can� make a save of a shot by Colorado Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson (not pictured) that goes in for a goal in the first period at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Oct 20, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Red Wings center Dylan Larkin (71) clears the puck as linesman Michel Cormier (76) jumps out of the way during the second period against the Washington Capitals at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Oct 28, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara (33) checks Los Angeles Kings right wing Dustin Brown (23) during the second period at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
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Reaves' first goal of this postseason, and just his second career playoff goal, came at 13:21 of the second. Luca Sbisa took a wrister from the point that deflected off one stick before Reaves got his blade on it, tipping it off the crossbar and over the goal line.

The Golden Knights defended the lead fiercely from that point, getting 31 saves from Marc-Andre Fleury and keeping the Jets from overrunning their defensive zone, even when Winnipeg pulled goalie Connor Hellebuyck for a sixth skater in the last two minutes.

"Guys really hustled, you know?" Fleury said after the game. "We made plays getting it out of the zone, we had some chances, and it paid off."

When asked if he's playing the best hockey of his career, the 33-year-old replied, "You're only as good as your team, you know?"

Vegas became the first expansion team to reach the Cup Finals since the St. Louis Blues, who played in a division of nothing but expansion teams after the NHL grew from six to 12 teams prior to the 1967-68 season.

As they have done throughout the series, the Golden Knights started fast. A failed clearing attempt by Jets defenseman Josh Morrissey found the stick of Alex Tuch in the high slot. He wheeled and wired a wrister past Hellebuyck at 5:11 of the first period for his sixth playoff goal.

Vegas had a 15-3 advantage in shot attempts in the first nine minutes, but Winnipeg finally found some traction as its sellout crowd roared to life.

Morrissey atoned for his mistake by tying the game at 17:14 of the first with his first playoff goal. Bryan Little's clean faceoff win found its way to Morrissey for a one-timer over Fleury's glove.

Winnipeg evened the shot totals at 32 apiece by game's end, but the Jets couldn't solve Fleury.

"The goaltender was extraordinary," Jets captain Blake Wheeler said. "He's playing lights-out right now."

Vegas is now 12-3 in the postseason, going 6-1 at home and 6-2 on the road. If the Lightning advance from the East, they will hold home-ice advantage in the finals, but a Capitals appearance would give the Golden Knights home ice.

--Field Level Media

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