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Golden Knights at Blackhawks Preview: Win or go home

Vegas must win and Dallas must lose to keep the dream alive.

Chicago Blackhawks v Vegas Golden Knights Photo by Jeff Bottari/NHLI via Getty Images

The Vegas Golden Knights have been in “must-win” mode for weeks, but tonight’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks is literally a must for Vegas if the Golden Knights wish to keep their postseason hopes alive.

After suffering a crushing 5-4 shootout loss to San Jose on Sunday and following it up with last night’s disappointing 3-2 shootout loss to Dallas, the Golden Knights are on the verge of being eliminated from postseason contention for the first time in franchise history.

But all the Golden Knights need to worry about is taking care of the two points up for grabs tonight in Chicago.

Postseason prayer

The Kings and Predators clinched playoff berths last night, leaving just one wildcard slot available for the taking.

It will come down to Dallas or Vegas, as the Canucks were eliminated as soon as Dallas reached overtime last night.

Here’s what Vegas needs in order to make the postseason:

  1. A win of any kind tonight against Chicago
  2. A Dallas regulation loss tonight against Arizona
  3. A win of any kind Friday against St. Louis
  4. A Dallas regulation loss Friday against Anaheim

In other words, the Golden Knights need to win out and need the Stars to lose both of their remaining games in regulation.

If the Golden Knights fail to secure both points tonight OR if Dallas reaches overtime against the Coyotes — who are coming off a 5-3 win against the Wild — the Golden Knights will be done.

It doesn’t matter whether Vegas wins in regulation, overtime or a shootout; Dallas cannot catch the Golden Knights in the first tiebreaker (regulation wins), so it’s just a matter of point totals moving forward.

It’s simple.

Dallas currently has 95 points, while Vegas has 91. The Golden Knights need both teams to finish with 95.

The odds are not in Vegas’ favor.

In fact, the odds are trash.

But the Golden Knights threw away chance after chance to control their own destiny and thus find themselves in this predicament.

All signs point towards Vegas missing the playoffs, but there is still hockey left to be played.

Scouting report

That starts tonight in Chicago against a Blackhawks team that was eliminated from playoff contention three weeks ago. Chicago (27-42-11) has gone 3-7-0 in its last 10 games, most recently defeating the Philadelphia Flyers 3-1. The only teams Chicago has defeated this month are San Jose, Arizona and Philadelphia.

However, the Golden Knights have learned the hard way that there is no easy win in this league, and no lead is safe.

Vegas is 9-2-0 in the all-time series and 1-1-0 against Chicago this season.

The first meeting (Jan. 8) marked the return of Marc-Andre Fleury to T-Mobile Arena; he made 30 saves on 31 shots in the Blackhawks’ 2-1 win.

In the March 26 rematch, the Golden Knights overcame a three-goal deficit by scoring three straight in the span of 1:52 early in the third period. Though Chicago went back on top, Vegas tied the game 47 seconds later. Evgenii Dadonov ultimately scored the game-winner in overtime to help Vegas secure the 5-4 win.

The Golden Knights will need to push for the full 60 minutes if they want to come out on top again tonight.

Vegas likely will go up against Kevin Lankinen, who is 7-15-6 with a 3.53 goals-against average and .890 save percentage. Colin Delia is 1-4-0 with a 4.06 goals-against average and .896 save percentage.

Patrick Kane leads the Blackhawks with 26 goals and 92 points, and Alex DeBrincat has hit 41 goals for the second time in his career; he sits one away from a new career high and has already set a career high with 77 points.

Seth Jones was the team’s big splash in the offseason, and he has chipped in 51 points in 76 games in his first season with the Hawks. Dylan Strome has 21 goals and 47 points, good for third and fourth overall, respectively.

Chicago is 28th in scoring with an average of 2.60 goals per game while yielding an average of 3.54 per game, good for 26th.

The power play ranks 21st with an efficacy rate of 19.4 percent, slightly better than Vegas (18.2 percent). The Hawks’ penalty kill is 25th with a 75.8 percent success rate, giving the Golden Knights a slight edge at 77.8 percent.

Keys to the game

Play with urgency. Step up. Score. Win.

One striking aspect of last night’s shootout loss in Dallas was the overall lack of urgency throughout the game. The Golden Knights need to play with playoff-level intensity; after all, this is a playoff game.

Players like Chandler Stephenson and Shea Theodore were electric last night, but other “top” players were either not effective or downright counterproductive in the case of Mark Stone. Jack Eichel led all forwards in ice time but didn’t have a particularly impressive performance; with a $10 million cap hit and superstar-level expectations, Eichel needs to score big goals in big games, and he hasn’t done so. In fact, he has just one assist and zero goals in his last five games. That can’t happen.

Similarly, Stone didn’t look to shoot last night and was hesitant with the puck; when he finally decided to pass it, his timing or accuracy was off, and he thwarted several of Vegas’ prime scoring chances. He may be injured, but his hockey sense and confidence were severely lacking last night. The Golden Knights need much more from their captain, who has just one assist in his last seven games since returning to the lineup.

Considering the meager numbers Lankinen and Delia have posted, Vegas must take advantage of Chicago’s porous defense and leaky goaltending to give Logan Thompson or Jiri Patera enough goal support.

It’s not time for every top forward not named Stephenson to go ice cold.

Jonathan Marchessault has not scored in his last five games, and Max Pacioretty has just two goals in eight games since returning to the lineup.

Meanwhile, William Carrier has two goals in two games, and Stephenson has a goal in four straight. He also has a power-play goal in three consecutive games, which is somewhat remarkable considering how awful Vegas’ power play has been this season.

But considering Carrier’s late first-period goal last night went into the net off the stick of Luke Glendening, the Golden Knights essentially failed to score at 5-on-5. That’s not an option tonight, even against Chicago’s special teams.

It’s not rocket science; the Golden Knights have to do whatever it takes to win.

That means putting in a team-wide 60-minute effort, preventing players from getting behind the defense, helping the goalie clear pucks from the crease, controlling the neutral zone, playing with discipline and doing anything necessary to compete against and defeat an opponent with nothing to lose.

Ideally, the Golden Knights will avoid their third straight shootout since they have gone a combined 0-for-10 over the last two games. But no matter what, Vegas just has to win. The “A for effort” attitude Pete DeBoer continues to preach is not going to cut it if/when the Golden Knights hit the golf course in a few days.

If they can’t outscore a team with a power play operating at 11.9 percent this month that’s giving up 3.83 goals per game, the Golden Knights may not deserve to make the playoffs; if they can’t outscore Chicago, they won’t.

Regardless of what happens with Dallas, this Golden Knights team needs to play with more pride; the “Misfit” identity seems to be gone, but there’s no reason why this group can’t leave it all out on the ice in the final two games of the 2021-22 regular season.

Projected lineups

Vegas

Pacioretty — Stephenson — Stone
Marchessault — William Karlsson — Nicolas Roy
Mattias Janmark — Eichel — Dadonov
Carrier — Michael Amadio — Dylan Coghlan

Brayden McNabb — Theodore
Alec Martinez — Alex Pietrangelo
Ben Hutton — Zach Whitecloud

Thompson
Patera

Chicago

DeBrincat — Strome — Kane
Kubalik — Toews — Tyler Johnson
Philipp Kurashev — Sam Lafferty — Taylor Raddysh
Boris Katchouk — Reese Johnson — Henrik Borgstrom

Alex Vlasic — Jones
Jake McCabe — Alec Regula
Calvin de Haan — Erik Gustafsson

Lankinen
Delia


How to watch

Time: 5:30 p.m.

TV: AT&T SportsNet

Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM