The Associated PressWINNIPEG, Canada (AP) — The Winnipeg Jets were in rhythm and the Vegas Golden Knights looked rusty.
Or, maybe the Jets are just that good.
Dustin Byfuglien scored about a minute after the puck dropped and Winnipeg built a three-goal lead early in the first period and went on to beat Vegas 4-2 on Saturday night in Game 1 of the Western Conference final.
While the Jets played at home less than 48 hours after advancing past top-seeded Nashville on the road, the Golden Knights were off for nearly a week after eliminating San Jose in the second round.
“We didn’t have much of a rest,” Byfuglien said. “We’re still in game mode.”
Patrik Laine and Joel Armia had goals 46 seconds apart to put the Jets up 3-0. Mark Scheifele gave Winnipeg a 4-1 lead midway on a power play through the second period with his 12th goal this postseason.
Brayden McNabb scored midway through the first and William Karlsson had a power-play goal late in the second period to pull Vegas within two, but the expansion team couldn’t get closer.
“We were chasing the game all night,” Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant said.
Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck made 18 saves.
Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 22 shots for the Golden Knights, whose Stanley Cup-winning goalie has given up at least three goals for the fifth time in six games.
“He’s the best goalie in the playoffs as far as I’m concerned,” Gallant said.
Fleury and the Golden Knights will have to be at, or near, their best when the Jets host Game 2 on Monday night before the series shifts to Las Vegas.
“Next game, no excuses,” Golden Knights center Jonathan Marchessault said. “Everybody needs to come and be ready to play our best game of the playoffs.
“We’re going to show what kind of team we are.”
Winnipeg, which is making its deepest playoff run in franchise history, started strong and fast.
Vegas, meanwhile, didn’t appear anything like the team that took the league by storm in its record-breaking inaugural season.
The Jets’ fast, deep and talented team had 114 points this season and trailed only the Predators’ league-high total by three points. Their success has carried over into the postseason, winning all three Game 1s and avoiding trailing a series.