nhl

Golden Knights already in playoff mode

Despite key components missing from the lineup, the Golden Knights continue to play winning hockey late in the season and need just one point in Thursday's regular-season finale to clinch the Pacific Division and be the top team in the Western Conference playoffs.

LAS VEGAS — The celebration is on hold.

The Golden Knights will have to wait until Thursday to see if they’re Kings of the Western Conference and who they will meet in the Stanley Cup Playoffs beginning April 17.

Vegas did its part, handling a tired Seattle team Tuesday night at T-Mobile Arena, 4-1 to stay a step ahead of Edmonton, which came from behind and beat Colorado in overtime, 2-1. The Knights have 109 points and the Oilers have 107. Vegas plays the Kraken at Climate Pledge Arena Thursday while the Oilers are home to face San Jose. The Knights need only manage a point against the Kraken to clinch the Pacific Division for the third time in their brief six-year history. Doing so will pit Vegas against Winnipeg in the first round after the Jets secured the eighth and final playoff spot in the West by defeating Minnesota Tuesday.

It seems like every night, a different line dominates. Tuesday, it was the second unit of William Karlsson, Michael Amadio and Reilly Smith who took charge. The trio combined for three goals and five assists with Amadio scoring twice as he notched his 15th and 16th tallies of the year, a career high.

“We got some bounces that went our way but I liked our work ethic tonight,” said Amadio, who has adjusted his game to be more direct going to the net and being a presence in front. “We were really good in the neutral zone and transitioning.” 

And while there’s still some uncertainty about where the Knights will finish, there remains more uncertainty about the lineup coach Bruce Cassidy will get to field next week.

Mark Stone practiced Monday with the team for the first time since undergoing back surgery in January. He didn’t skate Tuesday, perhaps to see how he felt. He won’t play Thursday in Seattle and we’ll see what his availability is for the first round of the playoffs.

Shea Theodore is supposedly skating but the defenseman has not practiced with the team and his availability remains a question mark. Ditto for fellow defenseman Zach Whitecloud, who appeared to injure his left knee last Saturday in Dallas and has been off the ice since.

There’s been no news on forward William Carrier, who has been out since March 3 with a lower-body injury. He too is aiming for a return during the playoffs.

Then there are the goaltenders.

Logan Thompson has been practicing with the team but he last played March 23 when he suffered a lower-body injury. Adin Hill had a conditioning stint with the AHL Henderson Silver Knights last weekend and is back with the Golden Knights. 

Laurent Brossoit was in goal Tuesday and stopped 20 of 21 shots against the Kraken, which was playing the second of a back-to-back, to improve to 6-0-3. Jonathan Quick backed Brossoit up and he is healthy to play if needed. 

“It feels good to contribute,” said Brossoit. “I’m feeling as good as I’ve ever felt and it seems like we’ve been in playoff mode the last 10 games or so, playing some really good teams.”

Cassidy said it’s too early to say who will be his starter in net next week. But he was not shy in his praise of Brossoit.

“He’s helped himself every time he’s been in the net,” he said. “I like where he’s at.”

In fact, Cassidy said the entire team has responded the way he hoped it would. The Knights appear to be transitioning to the postseason despite having to replace key performers.

“I’ve preached all year about getting a full 60 (minutes),” he said. “We got it against Minnesota. We got it against L.A. and (tonight) against Seattle.”

Defensively, Vegas is in shut-down mode, which can take you a long way in the playoffs. The Knights are limiting the number of odd-man rushes, they’re getting good goaltending from both Brossoit and Quick, the forwards are getting back into the defensive zone to support the defense and they’re transitioning out of their own end with speed and generating good chances in the offensive zone.

Bottom line? They’re playing like a first-place team, one that harbors a deep postseason run.

“It’s a veteran group of guys,” said forward Phil Kessel, who will be going back to the playoffs for the first time in three years. “We’ve been involved in some tight games of late but we’re playing pretty good hockey. We’ve got a group here, a deep team. Each night, a different group of guys step up. We’ve just got to keep going, keep battling.”

It continues Thursday. The objective? Secure a single point.

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