It has been a difficult week, month and season for the Vegas Golden Knights, but the club wrapped up a frustrating 2021-22 campaign with a seven-goal outburst, defeating the St. Louis Blues 7-4 Friday night at Enterprise Center.
The Golden Knights were coming off three consecutive shootout losses, which collectively put an end to Vegas’ playoff hopes. Vegas was eliminated on Wednesday, and though it technically became official once Dallas reached overtime against Arizona, the Golden Knights proceeded to drop their third straight skills competition to leave no room for doubt.
In the end, the Golden Knights went a combined 0-for-17 in the shootout against San Jose, Dallas and Chicago.
But Friday night’s regular-season finale did not end up in a shootout; it didn’t even require extra time.
Instead, six Golden Knights skaters combined for seven goals en route to win No. 43 of the year.
Though the two clubs ultimately combined for 11 goals, it was a 1-1 game after one and a 3-3 contest after two.
It was none other than captain Mark Stone who opened the scoring on the power play late in the first period, netting his ninth of the year and first since Feb 1.
The Captain's back on the scoresheet pic.twitter.com/lMoWKv8Sne— Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) April 30, 2022
But former Golden Knights forward David Perron erased that lead 2:24 later with a rebound goal of his own. It was his 27th of the season and sixth career goal against Vegas.
Ryan O’Reilly scored just under five minutes in to give St. Louis its first lead of the night. The Blues center got in behind Logan Thompson, skated through the crease and scored on a backhand to become the ninth member of the Blues to hit the 20-goal plateau.
Just over nine minutes into the period, Jack Eichel scored on a deflection to make it 2-2. The goal snapped Eichel’s six-game drought and was the first of two goals on the night.
Just a piece of the puck pic.twitter.com/rURfDkbT1E— Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) April 30, 2022
St. Louis and Vegas exchanged another pair of goals before the buzzer sounded on the second.
First, Jordan Kyrou put St. Louis back up by one just 3:16 after Eichel’s equalizer.
But Zach Whitecloud responded with a beauty just over three minutes after that, spinning in the zone before beating Blues netminder Ville Husso top-shelf from a sharp angle near the goal line.
Whitecloud went shelf to tie the game pic.twitter.com/uw0f5w2dZS— Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) April 30, 2022
The Misfit Line scored back-to-back goals to put Vegas up by two for the first time in the game.
William Karlsson fired a short-side laser past Husso to give the Golden Knights a 4-3 edge just 3:20 into the third. Jonathan Marchessault tallied the lone assist on the play.
Wild shot from Wild Bill pic.twitter.com/a3UJE5ghp5— Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) April 30, 2022
Marchessault followed suit with a goal of his own to make it 5-3, finally potting his 30th of the year after going six games without lighting the lamp.
The second 30-goal season of Marchy's career pic.twitter.com/huBUyhTQe1— Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) April 30, 2022
The Blues made things interesting, however, as O’Reilly netted his second of the night just seven seconds into a St. Louis power play.
The captain is getting hot at the right time. pic.twitter.com/IqU7qYEssp— x - St. Louis Blues (@StLouisBlues) April 30, 2022
But this game was not destined for a shootout, as the Golden Knights scored two more later in the frame in the span of 1:56.
Eichel, who had just one assist in the six games leading up to Friday’s finale, recorded his second goal and third point of the game to make it 6-4 with 4:12 remaining in regulation.
Eichel’s one-timer from the slot was his 14th goal in 34 games since making his Golden Knights debut on Feb. 16.
Max Pacioretty added an empty-net tally for good measure for the 7-4 final.
By no means was the victory any sort of consolation, though there were a few positive takeaways.
For one thing, Thompson finally got some goal support after suffering three straight shootout losses despite turning out stellar performances. He wasn’t his usual sharp self, but that’s understandable given the pressure and workload he’s carried this week. He finished the game with 14 saves on 18 shots for a .778 save percentage but picked up his 10th win of the season.
Also, it can’t hurt the overall team psyche for certain players (i.e., Stone, Eichel, etc.) to finally break through, end droughts and at least have something positive to take out of this slide.
That includes Marchessault, who finally hit the 30-goal threshold, doing so for the second time in his career.
None of that makes up for the fact that Vegas controlled its playoff destiny ahead of Sunday’s game and now will miss the playoffs for the first time in five seasons.
In the case of Stone and especially Eichel, those goals were very much needed yet nowhere to be found earlier this week when the games meant everything, not in the one game that meant nothing. Eichel went 0-for-3 in the shootouts but finished Friday’s lopsided win with three points.
Eichel, Stone, Karlsson and Marchessault combined for three assists in the three losses suffered earlier this week but managed a collective eight points against the Blues.
But the 2021-22 campaign, the brutal ride of tough breaks and missed opportunities, is finally over.
This week was particularly crushing, but the team’s collapse has been an ongoing process, and it’s something that can’t be pinned on a few players.
But it will be addressed in the offseason.
What that means for the core of this team as well as the coaching staff and front office remains to be seen. Major change may not be in the cards given the plethora of injuries, but the future of Golden Knights hockey is up in the air.
In the end, the Golden Knights finished 2021-22 with a 43-31-8 record and 94 points after entering the season with Stanley Cup aspirations and a “Cup-or-bust” mentality.
It’s safe to say that Year 5 was a bust.