It finally happened. After several chances to clinch a playoff spot, the Vegas Golden Knights finally punched their ticket to the postseason Friday night.
There’s only one problem — they didn’t seal the deal on their own.
An Arizona Coyotes loss of any fashion would have propelled the Golden Knights to a postseason berth. And thanks to the Colorado Avalanche and Nathan MacKinnon’s silky mitts, the Coyotes took the L in Denver.
Despite having a playoff spot officially clinched, though, the Golden Knights still have their fair share of issues that need to be addressed. They’ve lost each of their last four, and tonight they head to NorCal to take on a San Jose Sharks team they might very well face in the first round of the postseason. Luckily, Vegas has had played quite well against the Sharks this season, and that will need to continue in their fourth-to-last game of the regular season.
Knights need a good start
It’s no coincidence that each of the Golden Knights’ last four losses have come as a result of less-than-stellar play in the first period. Vegas even struggled in the first period of their most recent win in San Jose, a 7-3 rout the Shark Tank, when Logan Couture opened the scoring just 30 seconds into the contest.
These bad starts have plagued the Knights recently, and that cannot continue as they prepare for the postseason. Mark Stone confirmed this after Friday night’s 3-2 loss to the Minnesota Wild.
“We’ve just got to be prepared to play most nights,” said Stone. “Obviously you’re going to have nights where you don’t have it, but you have to be prepared when you don’t have it to keep it simple and make the right plays at the right time. The way this league is, there’s a ton of parity. Every team is good, every team wants to win. So we’ve got to get back to that desperate hockey that we had when teams were closer to us.”
San Jose hasn’t been sharp recently, either
If you think the Knights are on a rough stretch, just look at the Sharks. San Jose has lost seven in a row, and they’ll be just as desperate to end their losing streak as the Knights are. At this point, the Sharks won’t be catching the Calgary Flames for first place in the Pacific Division, so their goal is similar to Vegas’ — finish the regular season strong and build momentum for the postseason.
“This is the time of the year you want to play your best hockey,” said Sharks forward Gustav Nyquist after San Jose’s 5-4 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks. “You’ve just got to look yourself in the mirror and see what you can do better and work hard. That’s what it comes down to.”
The Sharks will be playing desperate hockey in their fourth and final regular-season meeting against Vegas, and the Knights will need to follow suit if they wish to put an end to their own struggles as well.
Potentially facing San Jose in the first round doesn’t change a thing
Considering that Vegas and San Jose could face off in the first round of the playoffs, could that change anything about how the Knights play their game tonight?
“Not a thing,” said Knights head coach Gerard Gallant Friday night.
“I just want to play them well and work hard. We went in there last time and played really good in a back-to-back. We prepare our team the same way and play the game the right way. It’s two really good teams and there is a really good chance we are going to play them, but I don’t think anything is going to change.”
How to watch
Time: 6:00 p.m. PT
TV: AT&T SportsNet
Radio: Fox Sports 98.9/1340