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It’s Not Over – Yet

**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s twice-weekly column publishes every Wednesday and Sunday during the Golden Knights season.** 

The stunned silence inside T-Mobile Arena Sunday evening was deafening.

Tomas Hertl’s shot from the high slot had managed to elude Marc-Andre Fleury and the San Jose Sharks remain very much alive in this opening round Stanley Cup Playoff series with the Golden Knights following their 2-1 double-overtime win.

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Watching from the press box as the Sharks celebrated, I couldn’t help to think what was going through the minds of virtually all of the 18,458 who had come to watch their team advance to the next round, were expecting handshakes but instead left wondering if this was their last visit to their beloved Fortress.

After all, it had been a strong effort by the home team. They had unleashed 59 shots on the other team’s goaltender. They had dominated play for good portions of the contest. They had spotted the visitors a 1-0 lead with 6.5 seconds left in the first period only to come back to pull even.

So why aren’t we talking about the Knights playing the Colorado Avalanche this morning? Why is there still unfinished business with San Jose?

The Sharks deserve the lion’s share of credit for extending this series to a deciding Game 7 Tuesday. They are a tenacious, opportunistic bunch. Their goaltender, Martin Jones, has rediscovered his game and his coach, Peter DeBoer, stuck with him when everyone was demanding he start Aaron Dell in net for Game 5.

Jones has played great in his last two games and it starts with him when looking for any explanations as to why this series is still ongoing.

I think our group has never lost faith in him. I think we knew he was capable of this and we needed him tonight and he was our best player. -DeBoer

Jones said he’s just trying to play the right way and not overthink things. It’s working out pretty well of late.

I’m sticking with it and just trying to read the game and play loose for the last few games. Trust my game and trust our team. -Jones

The Knights tipped their cap to the San Jose goalie. What else could they do?

Yeah, we were all over them. We had great pressure and forced a lot of turnovers. Martin Jones was pretty good tonight; you have to give him credit. -Jonathan Marchessault

But it’s not just San Jose’s goalie that has the Knights in this position. Hertl and Logan Couture, two players I had said before the series that the Knights had to contain, have dominated. Couture got the first goal and he has four in the series. Hertl has five goals. As a team, the Sharks have 18 goals, so that’s two guys generating 50 percent of the offense.

Yes, both are tough to play against. But if the Sharks advance beyond Tuesday, they’ll be the reason why.

(Hertl’s) confidence is as high as he wants it. You can see that, and you feed off him. He’s been a huge piece for us -Joe Pavelski

How has this series flipped in the last 72 hours? In the first four games, the Knights’ top line was Paul Stastny, Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone. Combined, they had 12 goals and 28 points. The last two games? Zilch. Stone had a gift 1:25 into Game 6 as he had an empty net to shoot at. His backhand was wide. If he scores, it changes the entire complexion of the game.

Pacioretty also had an open net and it took a great play by Pavelski to deny him as he managed to get his stick on Pacioretty’s at the right post before he could score.

Tomas Nosek and Reilly Smith also had Grade A chances in the opening 20 minutes and both failed to convert. If any of those go in, we’re probably talking about Colorado.

But hockey is as much mental as it is physical. And as we head to Game 7, the onus is on the Golden Knights to reboot mentally and emotionally.

You could see those seeds being planted immediately after the game from Gerard Gallant and his players.

You get ready to play, you forget about tonight, it’s over with now and you move on and get ready for the next one. We played a heck of a game tonight. I’m proud of our guys. The way that they competed; 59 shots on net. It wasn’t our night, but there is still another day for us, fortunately. We will get ready for Game 7 and be ready to go. -Gallant

And this from Marchessault:

We’re confident in the group we have here. We’re a confident group and a great hockey team. Just have to keep going and stick with it. I think if we keep playing the right way, like we did tonight, I think we’ll get rewarded. -Marchessault

What it boils down to is the Knights’ best players have to show up and outplay San Jose’s best. That has not happened in the last two games. Fleury has to play better. The Stastny line has to play better. The Knights’ entire defensive corps has to play better.

And while it is encouraging to see Marchessault and his line starting to generate some offense, it may not be enough. The bottom six need to help with the heavy lifting. Cody Eakin and Alex Tuch have only a goal apiece. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Will Carrier and Ryan Reaves have been kept off the scoresheet the entire series.

There’s nothing you can do when flukey things happen. Shea Theodore tried to prevent Hertl from scoring in the second OT and he got his stick on Hertl’s stick a split-second too late. And yes, maybe Fleury should have stopped that one, but that play all started by the Knights’ failure to maintain possession while on a rare OT power play. So if you’re looking to assign blame, you can point to all six players on the ice for Vegas.

But what’s done is done. As the players said afterward, you turn the page and you move on. But the stakes are obviously raised at this point. There’s no more cushion to fall back on. No more house money to play with. It’s one game, winner take all.

So why will the Knights win?

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Game 7 Mentality For Game 6 Reality

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The Golden Knights are one win away from advancing to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Although it’s not an elimination game for Vegas, many players are mentally preparing as if tonight’s contest is a series-deciding Game 7.

We’ve got to play like it’s our last one.-Cody Eakin

Yesterday, several Golden Knights expressed having a Game 7 mindset. Jonathan Marchessault has been a part of every clinching game in franchise history. The forward knows how crucial it is advancing in less than seven games. Something Vegas never faced during last season’s Cup chase.

This has to be the biggest game of the series. We need to close it out. It’s hard to do but we need to want it more than them. -Jonathan Marchessault

Golden Knights veteran Max Pacioretty has played in a handful of deep series over his eleven-year career. His focus for tonight’s game is the same as if it were an elimination game.

There’s really no excuse when you come home and you have a day off, and then a practice day the next day. No matter what, you should feel one hundred percent. You get a day off you really need to use it to your advantage. Sure, both teams have it but at the same time we feel that being at home in front of our crowd… we’ve found ways to get them to be the difference maker in home games. -Max Pacioretty

Eakin is only concerned about winning because he’s aware of the edge San Jose would gain if they were to force a Game 7.

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What’s The One Thing Vegas Must Be Better At In Game 6

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The Golden Knights dropped their first closeout game in franchise history in Game 5, falling in San Jose 5-2. It was far from a perfect game for either team, but the Golden Knights certainly didn’t play a terrible game (like they did in Game 1).

So, the difference between winning and losing is minuscule. I asked six players and the head coach the exact same question, “If there’s one thing that you think needs to change from Game 5 to help you win Game 6, what would it be?” Here are their answers.

I think we’ve got to get more people going to the net, more scoring chances inside. I thought we stayed on the outside a little bit too much last game. I think we’ve got to get more pucks to the net, more people to the net looking for rebound goals and more ugly goals. -Gerard Gallant

Play more shift-by-shift, a little bit more urgent. Bring the intensity to them rather than waiting to see what they are going to do. Bring the game to them. -Alex Tuch

The first 10 minutes of the game, they were buzzing early. We didn’t play a terrible game, but we didn’t play a game you need to play to close out a series. Every night it’s whoever wants it more. -Jonathan Marchessault

I’m not sure it’s something that needs to change. I liked that we were disciplined, we stayed out of the box a lot more. I think that’s a big part of it. That part I’d like to continue and a good start would be nice. -Nate Schmidt

I wouldn’t say change that much, just be a little bit sharper. Our execution wasn’t perfect last game. I thought we had the right mindset in a lot of areas however no sustained o-zone time. Could be the forecheck, could be holding on to pucks, it’s probably different in every scenario, but we know we have a bit better in all areas. -Max Pacioretty

You’ve got to take advantage of your opportunities whether it’s fortunate or unfortunate and vice-versa, if it goes against you, you have to keep going. For us it’s just to keep playing the same way. Come out playing well and try to be the aggressors at home. Plus, they were probably a little more desperate than we were and now we’ve got to match that. -Paul Stastny

I would say it’s forechecking. We’ve got to put more pressure on them and need to forecheck as a group of five. -Shea Theodore

It’s a wide range of answers, but they all have merit. My answer is a bit of a combination of Theodore’s and Pacioretty’s. In this series, it starts and ends with the Golden Knights ability to put pressure on the Shark’s defensemen. The best place to do it is in the offensive zone with a good forecheck, but it applies in the neutral zone and defensively at the blue line. The Golden Knights need to be tighter to the Sharks players as well as a bit more connected as a unit when they are trying to get the puck back.

This being said, it’s not like the Golden Knights were bad at it in Game 5, they just didn’t capitalize on the mistakes they created. There were five or six terrific chances that if Vegas converts just one, we may not even be talking about the Sharks anymore. So the biggest piece that needs to improve for me is the final one. When the chance is there, bury it.

At home, they’ve been able to do it against San Jose, especially early in games. It has to happen again in Game 6.

Marchessault: “Maybe They Should Start Giving Out Fines And Guys Will Think Twice About It”

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With the exception of last night’s Game 5, at the end of games in this first-round series I catch myself having the same thought, how do players have the energy to beat each other up after a playing a grueling 60-minute playoff game?

Come to find out Golden Knights forward Jonathan Marchessault has had the same concern.

Yeah we were actually talking about this. I think the league should start giving out fines when games are out of hand… it’s just stupid stuff that happens. It’s not only our series. -Marchessault

Of course we can’t let the Golden Knights off the hook but San Jose was out of control up until last night. Evander Kane, Timo Meier, Marcus Sorensen and others have created several barroom brawls at the end of their three losses. Causing multiple game misconducts, and unnecessary injuries. Vegas got a quick scare when Cody Eakin was bloodied up wrestling with Meier after Game 3.

With little consequence why would a losing team stop instigating when the game is out of hand? If a penalty is assessed it won’t matter to an angry player because penalties don’t carry over. In a strange way, physical scrums late in one-sided games can benefit the losing team.

There’s a time and a place for it. When you’re up 5-0 last thing you want to do is give them any advantage. That’s all extra stuff. At the end of the day, you just want to win games. That’s what we’re all here for. -Brayden McNabb

Mucking it up after the whistle is one thing, but intent to injure another player when a game gets out of hand is beyond the code.

Maybe they should start giving out fines and maybe guys will think twice about it. They had Meier clearing the puck on Miller on purpose. It’s just stupid. We don’t need this. You really want to injure a guy? I think it’s something they should look into.”-Marchessault

Last night’s game was tight down the stretch so neither team could risk a minor or a severe penalty. Both teams played more disciplined and kept it clean after the horn. With two elimination games left I’d expect Vegas and San Jose to control their emotions and focus solely on winning, but if a game gets out of hand in the third, it shouldn’t surprise anyone if the extracurricular stuff comes back.

That being said, don’t worry about the end of series handshake line, both teams respect the game and their opponent enough to forgive the insults, elbows and left-hooks.

In the immortal words of Omar Little, “A man must have a code.”

San Jose Searching For Answers To Stop Stone And Co.

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Through four games of the series, the San Jose Sharks have iced 14 different forwards, seven different defensemen, and two goalies. Only four of those 23 players have yet to be on the ice for a goal by Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty, or Paul Stasnty.

The Sharks have tried multiple forward lines, they’ve rotated defense pairings, they’ve tried checking lines, skill lines, speed lines, superstar defense pairings, and defense-first pairings. Nothing has worked.

It’s great, we always know they are going to be in the right spots. You just want to get the puck in their hands and they make the plays and score. -Shea Theodore

The Golden Knights line of Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty, and Paul Stastny have scored 12 goals, tallied 28 total points, and they’ve done it on just 34 shots.

With every series now having four games finished, Stone leads the league in playoff goals, Stastny leads in playoff assists (tied with Pacioretty), and Pacioretty (tied with Stone) leads in playoff points.

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The player who has spent the most time on the ice against the Golden Knights dominant line has been Erik Karlsson. Despite being one of the best defensemen in the entire NHL, Karlsson has not been able to handle the pressure of Stastny, Stone, and Pacioretty. He’s been on the ice for 11 of their 12 goals.

Overall, Karlsson has been out there for 13 of the Golden Knights 18 goals in the series, the same number as goalie Martin Jones.

They are a special group. I hope (they continue this), I want them to, but you know what, lines are going to get hot as we go along here. Let’s hope we can get a couple of lines going too. -Nate Schmidt

The Sharks have another chance to try and crack the code tonight, and they’ll likely try something new once again, but if you ask Mark Stone, no matter what the Sharks do, that line believes it’s just a matter of keeping it simple.

I mean, we have a good team. At the end of the day we just have to play our style hockey. We have to put pressure on their defensemen. When you put pressure on anybody, it makes the game harder. -Stone

As far as the defensemen, they have a simple plan too.

It’s called watching offense from the D. You sit back, watch, and enjoy the show. -Schmidt

One more dominant effort from the line of non-Misfits, and the Golden Knights will have ridden them right into the second round.

The War Of Words That The Golden Knights Are Winning

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Ryan Reaves has 40 career NHL goals. Sharks center Joe Pavelski has accrued 355 career goals, 38 of them this season. Pavelski averages 12+ more minutes a game and has $40M more in career earnings. Simple numbers alone show the wide gap between the two players. So after dropping their third straight series game, why in the world is the Sharks Captain so concerned with Reaves?

He’s called himself the lion in the jungle. You see what he does, he baits guys in and enjoys when he’s doing it. Give him credit. -Joe Pavelski, Sharks Captain

Reaves gets paid $2.75M and scored nine goals this season. Costing $300,000 per goal, clearly, the Golden Knights aren’t paying their fourth liner to score. Reaves is being paid to get into the heads of highly skilled players in the postseason. And he’s earned every penny against the Sharks.

Reaves is doing his job, he’s got us fired up at times. We’ve played against this guy 5-10 years ago when there were other heavyweights in the lineups and he was just very quiet. Now you see him he starts yapping when Haley’s out. -Joe Pavelski, Sharks forward

After each game in the series, one of the Sharks stars have brought up Reaves. The question is, why? Why are San Jose’s veteran leaders so concerned with a player that averages under ten minutes a game in this series?

Future Hall of Famer Joe Thornton also piped in after Game 3. While Thornton was carrying on about Reaves, the league was getting his suspension papers prepared for the morning.

For a 30-goal scorer, boy he looked good in that fight… He looked like Brett Hull fighting Ryan. It was just tough to see Ryan go down like that versus a 30-goal scorer but hopefully he’ll have better luck next time. -Joe Thornton, Sharks forward

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It’s All About The Goaltending

**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s twice-weekly column publishes every Wednesday and Sunday during the Golden Knights season.** 

Before the opening-round playoff series between the Golden Knights and the San Jose Sharks had begun, I pointed out that Vegas would win and it would do so because of superior goaltending.

Hey, I’m no Scotty Bowman, but you didn’t need to be to know that Marc-Andre Fleury was better than Martin Jones and/or Aaron Dell.

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And as this series heads to SAP Center Thursday for what could be a series-ending Game 5 following an impressive 5-0 victory at T-Mobile Arena Tuesday night, it’s a fact Fleury has been a big part of why the Knights hold a 3-1 series lead.

He’s getting better with each period of each game. He wasn’t great in the 5-2 loss to the Sharks in Game 1. And after letting in three late first-period goals in Game 2, Fleury has been virtually unbeatable.

I’m not blaming him for the loss or the trio of goals allowed in Game 2. But he’s doing what you want your goalie to do — stop the easy ones, make a few spectacular saves, be the first line of defense on the penalty kill and keep your team in the game.

He’s tracking the puck with laser precision. He’s always a step ahead of the Sharks in anticipating where the play is going to be. His positioning is spot on. And he’s moving well in his crease and post to post.

In other words, Fleury is being Fleury. He stopped all 28 shots he faced in recording his 15th career playoff shutout, tying Chris Osgood for fourth place on the NHL’s career list.

I have felt good all playoffs. They are a good team, it’s not over obviously. It was a big game tonight and a big win for us. One game at a time. -Fleury

The win, Fleury’s 78th in the playoffs, moved him past Mike Vernon into seventh place on the all-time list for goaltender wins. Next is Ken Dryden, who had 80 postseason victories.  Patrick Roy is the career leader in playoff wins with 151.

It is really cool. I have been very fortunate to play on a lot of good teams and again this year. It is very humbling to be amongst these guys who I grew up watching. -Fleury

His play Tuesday did not go unnoticed by his coach, his teammates and his opponent.

He played awesome the first two periods. We weren’t happy with our game. Obviously, we got out to the 1-0 lead in the first shift fortunately for us so that was big, but we didn’t play our type of game for two periods. I thought and we played a lot better in the third. Fleury was huge, when we needed him, he was huge. -Gerard Gallant

This from Shea Theodore:

I think when you watch him out there and he makes those saves, you see how confident he is. Even when he is playing the puck, he is confident with it and he always makes the right decisions. –Theodore

And San Jose coach Peter DeBoer tipped his hat to Fleury.

I thought we created a lot of chances on the other end, but you have to give Fleury credit. He frustrated us tonight and allowed them to be in the position they were in the third. -DeBoer

The Knights have done an awful lot of things well in this series. The line of Paul Stastny, Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone have dominated and the Sharks still haven’t found an answer for them. They’re doing the little things well, like winning faceoffs. They’re outhitting the Sharks.

What Vegas has not done well is avoiding penalties. They’re taking way too many, and it’s going to catch up with the Knights. Maybe not in this series, but perhaps in the next round. Fleury has been tremendous in standing up to the barrages of shots the Sharks have fired at him when they have the man advantage and that’s what you hope your goalie will do. Tuesday, San Jose went 0-4 on the power play and they are just 3 for 20 in the series (15%).

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“So-Called” Fourth Line Having Major Impact Vs. Sharks

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In three playoff games, the Golden Knights top six have been outstanding. Between the two lines they have 11 goals, and 14 assists. However, after a winning night that featured Mark Stone’s hat trick and the second line’s offensive explosion, Gerard Gallant took time to praise a different line. The so-called fourth line.

For me tonight, they were as good as their top line, for the role they play on our hockey team. -Gallant

The trio of Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Ryan Reaves, and William Carrier averaged 10 minutes of ice time, generated four shots on net, had three takeaways, three blocked shots and won 75% of faceoffs.

They are momentum guys. They finish checks, they take very few penalties and play the game the right way. -Gallant

Playing the game the right way means pushing the puck towards the offensive zone, pouncing on loose pucks and winning board battles. Sure, it’s a bunch of cliches but for anyone that watched Game 3, they noticed the impact the fourth line had in their 10+ minutes played.

When you cause turnovers, when you’re skating hard that’s a big part of it… I’ve talked about forecheck for a year and a half, two years. When we’re forechecking well and moving our feet well we’re a good team. -Gallant

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Max Pacioretty Delivers On Son’s Demand In First Home Playoff Game

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Max Pacioretty was a Golden Knights fan long before he ever became a Golden Knight. The reason for that is his sons, Lorenzo and Maximus fell in love with the team in the playoffs last year.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

When Pacioretty told his sons he was traded to Vegas, they wanted to know which logo the Golden Knights were on their NHL bed sheets. Unfortunately, because the sheets were a few years old, there was no Golden Knights logo. Luckily, Max had a backup plan because he knew his boys would remember the pregame shows they watched together last year in the playoffs.

So I’m like, “Vegas! Here — come on, you remember these guys, right? From the playoffs last year? That cool team in black and gold? They made the Cup Fi—”

And right in that snap second, I see their eyes just light up. I know I don’t even have to finish the sentence. The boys, not only do they remember Vegas from the playoffs last year……. they loved Vegas in the playoffs last year.

So now they’re jacked.

Now they’re parading around the house, you know, chanting and hollering, “WE’RE GOING TO VEGAS, WE’RE GOING TO VEGAS.” -Max Pacioretty, Player’s Tribune

(By the way, if you haven’t read that Player’s Tribune article, stop reading this right now and go read that. It’s better than this one, I’m not even going to lie. I would appreciate it if you come back though.)

So there’s no question Pacioretty has been thinking of Sunday night’s game for a while. His first playoff game as a member of the Golden Knights at T-Mobile Arena. It was always going to be special, and it was always going to be a memory he’d share with his kids.

As soon as my kids woke up at 6:30 in the morning they thought it was time to go to the game. For my family, it’s the best time of the year. -Pacioretty

Then, one of his sons made a request, one he’s never done to his NHL superstar father before.

First time in my career my son asked me to score a goal tonight and I was able to do so. In this rink, I’m sure he had a ton of fun. -Pacioretty

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That’s a lot of pressure.

About eight minutes into the 1st period and just a few seconds into Evander Kane’s 4-minute high stick penalty, dad got it done. He took a pass from Shea Theodore, walked in towards the goal and sent a laser of a shot past Martin Jones.

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Golden Knights In Good Shape Despite Sloppy Play

**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s twice-weekly column publishes every Wednesday and Sunday during the Golden Knights season.** 

You’re the road team in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Your main objective is to get a split and take home-ice advantage away from the other team.

The Golden Knights got what they were looking for, splitting the first two games of their opening-round series with San Jose. It is now a best-of-five series with three of those games potentially at T-Mobile Arena, where you can expect a frenetic crowd both inside and outside the building.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

As for how the Knights got the split can come into question and leave pause for concern heading into tonight’s Game 3. There are so many obvious points: mainly stay out of the penalty box and don’t turn the puck over in your end. You know that, so there’s no sense in belaboring the point.

Give Vegas credit for not completely folding after squandering a 3-0 first-period lead. The Knights showed some resiliency in regaining command of the game and eventually posting the 5-3 victory Friday.

The Knights may very well go on and win the series and advance to the conference semifinals. But they’ve got a few things to clean up in Game 3 in order for that to happen.

San Jose continues to try and take liberties with Marc-Andre Fleury and the Knights’ skaters need to send a message to the Sharks that it won’t be tolerated. Especially when Evander Kane is looking to stir the pot. Kane is so talented but he plays with a certain edge that sometimes crosses the line. He needs to be accounted for. Same with Timo Meier who has no problem crashing the net and getting in Fleury’s face. Ditto Joe Pavelski, Barclay Goodrow, Logan Couture, and Michael Haley.

If you’re a Golden Knight and you’re going to beat the snot out of someone who messes with your best player, I can live with that kind of penalty. Fleury is your most valuable commodity. You can’t let the other team have carte blanche and run at him whenever they feel like it.

I see Jonathan Marchessault always willing to come to the aid of his goalie. Marchessault is one of the smallest players on the roster in terms in size. In terms of heart, he’s one of the biggest.

Marchessault said it’s the responsibility of any Golden Knight who is on the ice to protect Fleury.

They know he’s our best player. When you hit the goalie, it’s a matter of respect. If I had a chance to hit (Martin) Jones, I’m going to be smart and pull up. But if they hit Flower, everyone who’s on the ice needs to do something. The shit’s going to go down, basically. –Marchessault

Fleury doesn’t believe the Sharks are out to hurt him. But he knows they are trying to make things uncomfortable and try and get him off his game.

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