The Golden Knights and T-Mobile Arena were the center of the NHL universe Feb. 4 during All-Star Weekend.
Fans watched captain Mark Stone participate in an All-Star skills competition event at the Fountains of Bellagio. Left wing Jonathan Marchessault cut his vacation to Mexico short to take part in accuracy shooting. Defenseman Alex Pietrangelo won the breakaway challenge with an assist from actor Jon Hamm. Pete DeBoer coached the Pacific Division, an honor he earned because the Knights were leading the standings.
The atmosphere was far different in the building Monday, when the team lost 3-2 to the New Jersey Devils to reduce its playoff hopes from a flame to a flicker. The Knights enter their final five games — the next two at home — probably needing to win out to make the postseason.
But despite the daunting challenge, the team has confidence it can do it.
“The message is, you can’t waste any energy on missed opportunities over the last week,” DeBoer said. “We’ve got to look forward to the task at hand and get excited about showing everybody that we’re capable of doing this.”
The Knights put themselves in this position with a long slump after the All-Star break.
They’re 14-15-2 since hosting All-Star Weekend and have the 23rd-most points in the NHL during that span. That’s how they went from leading the Pacific Division to fourth entering Tuesday’s games.
Their remaining schedule features two playoff teams (Washington, St. Louis) and a third team (Dallas) fighting to make the postseason. It’s what makes the loss to New Jersey, tied for the fifth-fewest points in the league, so painful.
The Knights have two five-game winning streaks this season, including a recent one from March 24 to April 3.
“We know we can win five games,” left wing Max Pacioretty said. “But it’s not going to be easy. We’re going to play some really good teams.”
The Knights probably need to win out because any dropped points will make it difficult to make up the necessary ground in the standings. They have 87 points and can get a maximum of 97. Edmonton, at 94 points entering Tuesday, needs only two wins in its final six games to finish ahead of the Knights.
A more realistic target is third-place Los Angeles with 90 points. The Kings can’t be caught by the Knights if they finish 4-1 their final five games, all against teams outside of the current playoff picture. Eight is the magic number. That’s the combination of points earned by the Kings and dropped by the Knights that makes an overtake impossible.
The wild-card picture is similar for the Knights. They trail Dallas and Nashville by four points, and both teams have a game in hand. The Stars’ and Predators’ magic number is seven to avoid being caught by the Knights. A 3-2-1 finish is all it would take for either team.
The stakes are high. The Knights never have missed the playoffs since joining the NHL in the 2017-18 season.
“We’ve done it before,” defenseman Brayden McNabb said. “We’ve gone on stretches where we’ve won five, six, seven, eight, nine games in a row. We’ve got the group to do it, and we know we have to.”
Contact Ben Gotz at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @BenSGotz on Twitter.