Golden Knights’ NHL playoff chances hinge on strong finish

Golden Knights defenseman Alec Martinez (23) slams Canucks center Jason Dickinson (18) into the ...

The Golden Knights are not just fighting the standings in their quest to avoid missing the playoffs for the first time in their five seasons.

They’re fighting the clock. Ten games remain, and the Knights have an uphill climb to determine if they will keep playing beyond that. Wednesday’s 5-1 loss to the Vancouver Canucks — even after a five-game winning streak — was a significant blow because the team’s margin for error is tiny.

It’s going to be almost nonexistent the rest of the way, especially with the way the teams the Knights are chasing are playing.

“We need to be desperate,” center Jack Eichel said. “Every night you should expect to win. But we knew there might be a game or two that we didn’t have (our) best. We just need to get back to it.”

The Knights have done what they can to stay in the race.

Beyond their recent five-game winning streak, tied for their longest of the season, they’re 7-3 in their past 10 games. They rebounded from an 0-5-0 road trip to at least put themselves in the mix for one of the three guaranteed playoff spots in the Pacific Division or one of the Western Conference’s two wild cards.

The Knights have 82 points. The problem is, the teams they’re chasing have shown no interest in being overtaken.

Second-place Edmonton increased its lead on the Knights before Thursday by going 7-2-1 in their previous 10 games. Edmonton was up five points with 11 games to go before playing third-place Los Angeles on Thursday.

The Knights did gain ground on the Kings, but not by much. Los Angeles was 5-3-2 in its past 10 before Thursday and watched its advantage shrink by two points. The Kings are still up four on the Knights with 10 games to go.

Things aren’t much different in the wild-card picture. Dallas was also 7-3 in its past 10 before playing Toronto on Thursday. The Stars were up one point on the Knights before the game with 13 to go on their schedule.

Nashville lost ground in the wild-card race by going 6-4 its past 10, but has a two-point lead on the Knights with three games in hand.

“Sometimes it looks like we’re sitting pretty,” defenseman Ben Hutton said Wednesday morning. “Might get points back from a team losing or whatever, and then you refresh it and all of a sudden they’re up by one. What the heck happened? That’s all part of it. That’s nothing we can control.”

The Knights’ remaining schedule ranks 21st in difficulty, according to the website Tankathon. Edmonton (second) and Nashville (fifth) have tough finishes, while Dallas’ (23rd) and Los Angeles’ (26th) are easier.

The Knights’ playoff hopes probably require a 7-3 or 8-2 finish with some help. If all their opponents go .500 in their remaining games, Los Angeles and Dallas will have 96 points, Nashville 97 and Edmonton 98.

With 31 regulation wins, the Knights currently would win a tie with Los Angeles (29) and Dallas (26) but not Edmonton (32) or Nashville (33).

“I love the parity of the three-point game,” coach Pete DeBoer said Tuesday. “The problem is closing that gap. Is that a mirage? If you’re having to hop over three or four teams, it probably is. When you only have to catch one team, it’s doable.”

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