Golden Knights in danger of missing NHL playoffs for 1st time

Vegas Golden Knights goalie Logan Thompson (36) makes the save on Edmonton Oilers' Zach Hyman ( ...

All was right in the Golden Knights’ world at this time last season.

They defeated the San Jose Sharks 5-2 on April 21 to become the first NHL team to clinch a playoff berth, doing so with 10 games remaining.

But their situation looks much different a year later. If the Knights make the postseason, they will be one of the final teams in.

Ten teams had punched their playoff tickets entering Sunday’s games, including three in the Western Conference. That leaves precious few spots available for the Knights, who open their final homestand of the season Monday against New Jersey. After hosting Washington on Wednesday and San Jose on Sunday, they end the season with a three-game road trip.

“We’ve got six games remaining,” captain Mark Stone said. “I don’t know how many we’re going to have to win, but it starts on Monday night. We’ve got to get that one.”

The playoff chase has the Knights swimming in uncharted waters.

Last season, they clinched early on their way to finishing tied for the most points in the NHL. They locked up a postseason berth in their inaugural season with six games remaining. In their second season, when they finished third in the Pacific Division, they clinched with four games left.

But if this season ended today, the Knights would miss the playoffs, even after going 7-2-1 in their past 10 games. Their fate won’t be decided until the final days.

“We knew we weren’t going to run the table,” coach Pete DeBoer said. “We were going to drop some points along the way. We’re still right in the thick of things.”

Colorado, St. Louis and Calgary have clinched three of the Western Conference’s eight postseason berths, and Minnesota entered Sunday’s game against the Sharks a point away from doing the same.

That means the spots up for grabs are likely to be for the second- and third-place finishers in the Pacific Division and the two wild-card teams. Edmonton has the inside track on the first one. The Knights trail the Oilers by seven points after Saturday’s 4-0 loss in Edmonton.

Third-place Los Angeles is more vulnerable. The Kings are three points up on the Knights after beating Columbus 2-1 on Saturday with an extra game played. Los Angeles has the NHL’s easiest remaining schedule, according to the website Tankathon, and would get in if it wins out. The Knights lead in the regulation wins tiebreaker 33-31 if they’re able to catch the Kings.

There’s an opportunity in the wild-card chase, too. Nashville has a four-point lead on the Knights with a game in hand, plus a 35-33 edge in the tiebreaker. But Dallas, which has the same number of points as the Predators, trails in the tiebreaker 33-29. The Knights visit the Stars on April 26, giving them an opportunity to narrow the gap.

That chance will mean nothing if the team doesn’t take care of business at home. The Knights — 21-14-3 at T-Mobile Arena — need at least two wins on the homestand to keep alive their hopes of a fifth straight playoff berth.

“We’re home here for a bit and then we go on the road again,” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “We control our destiny here. All you can really do is worry about the next game.”

Contact Ben Gotz at bgotz@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BenSGotz on Twitter.