NHL: Golden Knights defend their fortress in win over Jets

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LAS VEGAS (Reuters) – After splitting the first two games of the Western Conference Finals with the Jets in Winnipeg, the Vegas Golden Knights returned home to a hero’s welcome on Wednesday and put on a show worthy of their spot near the Las Vegas Strip with a 4-2 win.

May 16, 2018; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Winnipeg Jets defenseman Tyler Myers (57) attempts to move the puck defended by Vegas Golden Knights left wing James Neal (18) during the third period in game three of the Western Conference Final of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

The victory pushed the Golden Knights’ advantage to 2-1 over the favored Jets in the best-of-seven series as the team continue to defy the odds in their inaugural season with the support of their vocal and colorful fan base.

The party started well before the puck dropped as Elvis and Wonder Woman impersonators mingled with fans outside the T-Mobile Arena near Knights-themed glitter and tattoo stations on a sweltering day in the Nevada desert.

Once inside, the 18,477 in attendance were treated to a surreal pre-game show where an actor dressed in knight’s armor used a sword to split a massive jet projected onto the ice in two, whipping the crowd into a frenzy.

May 16, 2018; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Vegas Golden Knights right wing Alex Tuch (89) moves the puck under pressure by Winnipeg Jets defenseman Tyler Myers (57) during the third period in game three of the Western Conference Final of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Fans were just getting situated when centerman Jonathan Marchessault scored just 35 seconds into the contest, unleashing a deafening roar from the raucous crowd that waved white “battle towels” throughout the contest.

Wing James Neal scored and later assisted on Alex Tuch’s eventual game-winner while goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury put in another stellar post-season performance, making 33 saves to secure the win.

Slideshow (5 Images)

The gritty victory was the latest for a squad that proudly refer to themselves the “Golden Misfits”, owing to a roster comprised of players let go by other teams prior to last year’s expansion draft.

The castaway crew has responded with a fearless, fast-paced style that has won fans’ hearts and put them two wins away from being the first expansion team since the 1967-68 St. Louis Blues to reach the Stanley Cup Finals.

“We all came here with the right mindset,” Neal told reporters after the win.

“Our coaching staff is great. They gave us a chance to play, and gave us chances to do things we haven’t in the past.”

“It’s fresh there for us to grab a hold, and we ran with it,” he said.

“Whether you have three Stanley Cups or your first time in the playoffs, everyone has something to prove.”

The Knights host the Jets in Game Four on Friday.

Reporting by Rory Carroll; Editing by Ian Ransom