Vegas’ Tricky Ride to the Playoffs

The+Golden+Knights+find+themselves+on+the+outside+looking+in+as+the+playoffs+approach.+%28Courtesy+of+Twitter%29

The Golden Knights find themselves on the outside looking in as the playoffs approach. (Courtesy of Twitter)

Chris Hennessy, Staff Writer

Since the inception of the Vegas Golden Knights franchise, they’ve been one of the best teams in hockey. From their blistering start in their inaugural 2017-18 season that resulted in a Stanley Cup final appearance and reaching the Conference Final three times in four seasons, the Golden Knights have proven that expansion franchises can be successful right from the jump. However, they haven’t exactly made themselves the most likable team. For hockey fans who have done nothing but dream of their team playing for the Stanley Cup, watching a brand-new team win in the western conference stung. Then, they created an All-Star team with Mark Stone, Alex Pietrangelo, Jack Eichel and Robin Lehner. Now they’re on the ropes, with Tuesday’s game versus the Dallas Stars, marking the first time they have ever faced playoff elimination in the regular season. 

There are three playoff spots left to grab, the third place spot in the Pacific division (most likely going to the Los Angeles Kings after their wins this weekend), and both wild card spots, currently occupied by the Nashville Predators and Dallas. Vegas sits at 90 points, three points behind Dallas, four behind Nashville and six behind the LA Kings. With three games left to play, Vegas needs to win out and have help from one of those three teams if they want to make the playoffs. 

The reason they find themselves in this situation has a micro and macro answer. The micro answer is Sunday’s collapse against the San Jose Sharks. At 9:29 p.m. pacific time on Sunday night, The Athletic’s Jesse Granger tweeted, “T-Mobile Arena is rocking. Vegas still leads 4-2 with 3:31 to play.” Then at 9:32, “Bonino scores his second of the game to make it 4-3 with 2:06 to play.” And then at 9:37, “San Jose ties it with less than 1 second to play. Unreal.” Within eight real minutes and just 3:30 of game time, the season went from in to out of their control. They went through overtime with no blood drawn, and San Jose won in a shootout. The Knights blew it. That extra point would put the Stars within their grasp for tonight’s game. Now, Vegas needs to win and have Dallas lose to either the Anaheim Ducks or the Arizona Coyotes down the stretch. 

On the macro level, Vegas has gone through a ton of injuries this season, most notably to captain Stone and goalie Lehner. Stone might not be 100% healthy yet, but he’s out there leading the team and has been important to their winning ways down the stretch to put them back in contention. Lehner has been far more interesting. The Knights picked Lehner over the reigning Vezina trophy winner Marc-Andre Fleury this offseason and it hasn’t gone to plan. Two serious injuries, one upper-body and one lower-body, have put Lehner on the shelf for a lot of the season. Backup Laurent Brossoit has also been hurt for the entire second half. Enter Logan Thompson. He had played one game in the American Hockey League (AHL) before the 2020 season, with every other pro game happening in the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) with the New Jersey Devils’  affiliate, the Adirondack Thunder. He played a total of nine minutes in the NHL and just 23 games in the AHL last year. Now, he has nine wins in 16 games with a 2.62 GAA and a .917 SV% and is keeping the team afloat. 

The part of the season that killed Vegas was between Feb. 9 and March 15 when they got nine points out of 15 games. Now they are doing everything in their power to undo that. Sunday’s collapse has them at a 15.3% chance to make the playoffs, according to Money Puck. I don’t see them sneaking in, and I see head coach Peter DeBoer getting fired after many interesting press conferences and goalie decisions. After the Jack Eichel trade, the season has been a complete disaster for Vegas, and now it’s coming down the stretch to see if they make the playoffs.