Golden Knights’ playoff hopes take hit with loss to lowly Devils

Golden Knights center Jack Eichel (9) takes a puck off the face with New Jersey Devils left win ...

Center Jack Eichel, right wing Mark Stone and left wings Jonathan Marchessault and Max Pacioretty drifted across the ice hunched over with their sticks on their knees when it was over.

Stone slammed his stick on the boards when he reached the bench to leave. That was how things ended for the Golden Knights on Monday night against the New Jersey Devils. In frustration and defeat.

Left wing Andreas Johnsson scored a tiebreaking goal 3:14 into the third period, and the Devils won 3-2 in front of an announced crowd of 18,077 at T-Mobile Arena to deal a critical blow to the Knights’ playoff hopes.

One team entered with everything to play for. The other, nothing but pride.

It turns out pride was enough.

There are images from Monday that probably will be burned into the Knights’ brains if they’re no longer playing hockey at the end of the month.

Their 23 missed shots. The stunned building in the third period. The frame of center Jesper Boqvist muscling his way toward the net for a game-winning goal that warmed the hearts of every Los Angeles, Dallas and Nashville fan.

It wasn’t supposed to go that way for the Knights. They were at home and facing a team that entered Monday with the fifth-fewest points in the NHL. The opposing goaltender was 34-year-old Andrew Hammond, who had a 3.98 goals-against average and .874 save percentage.

Yet it was New Jersey that took a 1-0 lead 6:54 into the first period when right wing Nathan Bastian poked a rebound into the net. The Knights gave themselves several great opportunities to tie the game, but kept shooting wide of Hammond or above him.

Right wing Keegan Kolesar seemed to right the ship with 2:23 remaining in the second period when his centering pass went off defenseman P.K. Subban and into the net to tie the game at 1.

But the Knights never built on it. Johnsson gave the Devils the lead again before Boqvist provided the finishing blow. The center deked around defenseman Alex Pietrangelo and scored with center Chandler Stephenson on his back 7:57 into the third period.

The Devils didn’t put another shot on goal. It didn’t matter. Stephenson scored after the Knights pulled goalie Robin Lehner, but they couldn’t come up with the tying goal.

The club couldn’t take care of business in one of its three final home games. Now, its playoff dreams are hanging by a thread.

Here are three takeaways from the loss:

1. Standings situation

The loss leaves the Knights with almost no margin for error in their final five games. Or exactly none, according to coach Pete DeBoer.

“I think we have to win them all,” DeBoer said. “That’s pretty simple. “

The Knights trail Los Angeles by three points for the third and final playoff spot in the Pacific Division. They trail Dallas and Nashville by four points in the wild-card chase, and both teams have a game in hand. Nashville also holds the regulation wins tiebreaker over the Knights 35-33.

2. Goalie decision

DeBoer opted to start Lehner after rookie Logan Thompson got the net in the previous two games.

Lehner, who left the team’s road trip early Friday because of a family member’s health situation, allowed three goals on 28 shots. He fell to 2-2-1 with an .889 save percentage since returning from a lower-body injury April 3.

Hammond made 42 saves for his fourth win.

3. Missed opportunities

The Knights still could have tested Hammond more despite all his saves.

Center Nicolas Roy shot wide on a breakaway in the first period and hit the post on another in the second. Kolesar couldn’t get a shot off on a partial breakaway in the first. Right wing Michael Amadio missed a golden opportunity in the second. There were others, even late in the game.

The Knights finished with 44 shots on goal, but their 23 misses and New Jersey’s 24 blocks held back their offense.

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