What needs to happen in order for the Golden Knights to make the playoffs

An overview of where things stand heading into the final week of the regular season.

The Vegas Golden Knights have made the playoffs in four out of four seasons since joining the National Hockey League in 2017-18, but that streak is on the line.

After blowing a two-goal lead in the final minutes of regulation and falling short in a 5-4 shootout loss Sunday night against San Jose, the Golden Knights are no longer in control of their postseason destiny.

In order to make the playoffs, they will need some assistance from the Los Angeles Kings, Nashville Predators or tomorrow night’s opponent, the Dallas Stars.

Tomorrow’s game will be critical towards determining the fate of Year 5 in Sin City.

Vegas has two options: Win and live to fight another day, or lose and likely put a final stamp of mediocrity on a tumultuous 2021-22 campaign.

If the Golden Knights lose in regulation, it’s game over.

Other outcomes will preserve the Golden Knights’ chances, but the potential paths to the postseason will be dimly lit and out of focus.

Tomorrow’s game is the first of Vegas’ final three games of the regular season, all of which will be played on the road.

Of the five teams fighting for the final playoff slots — Los Angeles, Nashville, Dallas, Vegas and Vancouver — Dallas arguably has the softest schedule, with three home games, two of which will be against Arizona and Anaheim. That makes tomorrow’s game between the Golden Knights and Stars that much more important.

Vegas, Nashville, Dallas and Vancouver all have a game in hand over Los Angeles, but the Kings need just one point to clinch the third slot in the Pacific Division.

Here’s everything you need to know heading into the final week of the regular season, including each team’s final matchups, a current look at the playoff standings, an overview of playoff tiebreakers and a breakdown of possible scenarios for Vegas to make the playoffs.

Remaining games

Vegas (90 points, 79 GP)

Tuesday at Dallas
Wednesday at Chicago
Friday at St. Louis

Los Angeles (96 points, 80 GP)

Wednesday at Seattle
Thursday at Vancouver

Nashville (94 points, 79 GP)

Tuesday vs. Calgary
Thursday at Colorado
Friday at Arizona

Dallas (93 points, 79 GP)

Tuesday vs. Vegas
Wednesday vs. Arizona
Friday vs. Anaheim

Vancouver (87 points, 79 GP)

Tuesday vs. Seattle
Thursday vs. Los Angeles
Friday at Edmonton

Playoff picture

Colorado, Minnesota and St. Louis have clinched the three Central Division playoff slots, though Minnesota and St. Louis are still fighting for home-ice advantage in their first-round matchup.

Calgary clinched the Pacific Division, and Edmonton will hold one of the two remaining Pacific Division slots; the Oilers will clinch the second seed with two points (even if they’re earned in overtime or shootout losses) in their final three games.

Los Angeles currently occupies the third Pacific Division slot, though the Kings have yet to clinch a playoff berth; they need just one point to do so, however, and that would secure the third and final Pacific Division slot.

In all likelihood, that leaves Vegas — along with Nashville, Dallas and Vancouver — in the running for the two wildcard seeds.

Here’s a look at the current Western Conference standings:

Playoff tiebreakers

If teams end up with the same number of points at the end of the regular season, there are several tiebreakers that will determine the final seeding.

1. Regulation wins (RW)

The first tiebreaker is regulation wins. The Golden Knights rank third among the five teams with 33 regulation wins.

Nashville leads the way with 35, followed by Los Angeles (34), Vegas (33), Vancouver (31) and Dallas (30).

The maximum number of regulation wins each team can finish with are as follows:

Nashville: 38
Los Angeles: 36
Vegas: 36
Vancouver: 34
Dallas: 33

2. Regulation and overtime wins (ROW)

If teams have the same number of regulation wins, the next tiebreaker is regulation and overtime wins, or ROW.

Once again, Nashville has the edge with 41, followed by Dallas (40), Los Angeles (39), Vegas (38) and Vancouver (35).

Here’s the best possible ROW total for each team:

Nashville: 44
Dallas: 43
Los Angeles: 41
Vegas: 41
Vancouver: 38

3. Wins (W)

The third tiebreaker is just the total number of wins, which includes regulation, overtime and shootout wins.

Nashville and Dallas both have 44, Los Angeles has 43, Vegas has 42 and Vancouver has 38.

Here’s how the teams would rank assuming each won the rest of its games:

Nashville: 47
Dallas: 47
Los Angles: 45
Vegas: 45
Vancouver: 41

4. Points in season series

If teams are tied in all three of those tiebreakers, the decision will come down to the number of points earned in the season series between clubs.

This tiebreaker gets somewhat complicated if teams have not played an even number of home games against each other; in that case, the first game played in the city that had the extra game will not count.

Using Vegas and Dallas as an example, that would mean Vegas’ 3-2 overtime win in Dallas back in October would not count; instead, the results of tomorrow’s game would count as the Dallas home game, but Vegas would have a head start with two points from its 5-4 regulation win against the Stars in December.

There are additional details related to this tiebreaker, including if more than two teams finish with the same number of points, but it’s unlikely this will prove to be relevant.

Here is Vegas’ record against the four other teams in contention, as well as the point totals in those season series:

Los Angeles: 2-1-1 (tiebreaker points: 5-4 Vegas)
Nashville: 2-1-0 (tiebreaker points: 4-0 Vegas)
Dallas: 2-0-0 (tiebreaker points: to be determined)
Vancouver: 2-1-1 (tiebreaker points: 5-5)

5. Goal differential (DIFF)

If the first four tiebreakers aren’t sufficient, goal differential is the next factor to be considered. This will change over the course of this week, though Vegas currently leads with a plus-17; here’s how the other teams currently rank:

Vegas: +17
Nashville: +15
Vancouver: +10
Los Angeles: +2
Dallas: -10

6. Goals (GF)

The final tiebreaker is total goals scored; here’s where things currently stand:

Vegas: 254
Nashville: 253
Vancouver: 239
Los Angeles: 232
Dallas: 228

Though it may not prove to be relevant in the final games of the season, here’s how many goals per game each team has averaged thus far in April:

Vancouver: 4.30
Vegas: 3.50
Los Angeles: 3.00
Nashville: 2.58
Dallas: 2.54

The playoff scenarios

With five teams in the mix, a lot of things can happen at this point, even with so few games remaining.

However, it’s clear that Vegas must win tomorrow night against Dallas, and doing so in regulation will go a long way.

If all five teams win the rest of their games in regulation, they would finish the season with the following point totals, regulation win totals and regulation and overtime win totals:

Los Angeles: Points: 100, RW: 36, ROW: 41
Nashville: Points: 100, RW: 38, ROW: 44
Dallas: Points: 99, RW: 33, ROW: 43
Vegas: Points: 96, RW: 36, ROW: 41
Vancouver: Points: 93, RW: 34, ROW: 38

Obviously, not all teams can win out, since Vegas plays Dallas tomorrow night and Los Angeles and Vancouver play later this week.

However, Vegas’ season will depend on tomorrow night’s results.

If Vegas defeats Dallas in regulation

If Vegas wins in regulation, the Golden Knights would have 92 points in 80 games and would trail Dallas (93) by one point. Vegas and Dallas would then have two games remaining; if the Golden Knights were able to pull even with the Stars by earning at least one more point than Dallas in the final two games, they would win the tiebreaker.

If the Golden Knights win in regulation tomorrow night, they will own the tiebreaker (with 34 regulation wins) against Dallas no matter what, as the Stars can only finish with a maximum of 33. That’s assuming Vegas beats Chicago and St. Louis in regulation, of course.

If Vegas defeats Dallas in overtime

If the Golden Knights beat the Stars but do so in overtime, Vegas would still have 92 points in 80 games but would trail Dallas (94) by two points. Considering Dallas finishes its regular season against Arizona and Anaheim, it’s safe to assume the Stars will win at least one of those games, which would give them 96 points, the maximum point total Vegas can reach.

That means that if Dallas were to win one of its final two games (in any fashion) and simply make it to overtime in the other (thus earning three points in its final two games of the season for a total of 97), Vegas would not be able to finish higher than Dallas.

But the Golden Knights technically would not be eliminated until Nashville either won one game in regulation or reached the 97-point threshold.

If Vegas defeats Dallas in a shootout

Much of the same would be true, but the Predators would eliminate the Golden Knights simply by reaching 96 points, either by winning a game or picking up two points in overtime/shootout losses.

If Dallas defeats Vegas in regulation

If the Golden Knights lose tomorrow’s game in regulation, they will be eliminated from playoff contention.

In that scenario, Dallas would have 95 points. Since Vegas could then finish the season with a maximum of 94 points, the Golden Knights would not be able to finish higher than the Stars, who would clinch a playoff spot.

However, Vegas also would be unable to overtake the Predators since Nashville has 94 points and would own the second tiebreaker. Even if Vegas beat Chicago and St. Louis in regulation, the Golden Knights could finish the season with a maximum of 94 points, 35 regulation wins and 40 regulation or overtime wins. Nashville already has 94 points, 35 regulation wins and 41 regulation and overtime wins.

Thus, a Dallas win in regulation will eliminate Vegas and Vancouver from the playoffs. Vancouver will be eliminated if Dallas earns one point.

If Dallas defeats Vegas in overtime or a shootout

If Dallas beats Vegas in extra time, the Stars would have 95 points in 80 games and would hold a four-point edge over the Golden Knights (91). Vegas could finish with a maximum of 95 points, so the Golden Knights would need the Stars to lose both of its final games in regulation or would need Nashville to lose all three of its games in regulation, thus finishing with 94 points.

Putting tomorrow’s game against Dallas aside, it won’t take much for Nashville and Los Angeles to best the Golden Knights.

Nashville needs just three points in its final three games (against Calgary, Colorado and Arizona) to finish ahead of Vegas, even if those points all come in overtime/shootout losses*, while the Kings need just one point in their final two games (against Seattle and Vancouver).

One regulation win for Nashville also would do the trick, as the Predators would have 96 points, 36 regulation wins and 42 regulation and overtime wins, thus beating Vegas on the second tiebreaker since the Golden Knights can finish with a maximum of 96 points, 36 regulation wins and 41 regulation and overtime wins.*

Needless to say, the Golden Knights’ season hinges on the outcome of tomorrow’s game in Dallas.

But even a Vegas win in regulation will not guarantee a fifth trip to the promised land.

*Updated for clarification on April 25, 2022