Golden Knights rediscover magic at right time

Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
The Sporting Tribune's Steve Carp writes Vegas' magic number to clinch a playoff spot is six as it has gone 7-2-1 in its last 10 games.

LAS VEGAS — Give the Vegas Golden Knights credit. Those guys know how to read a calendar.

With the games dwindling to a precious few — seven to be exact — the Knights have rediscovered their game just in time to make their playoff push. Tuesday’s 6-3 win over Vancouver, the first-place team in the Pacific Division, was indicative of the team’s recent strong play.

Twice the Canucks cut into the lead only to have the Knights answer in seconds with goals to help stagnate any notion of a Vancouver comeback.

“I just think the guys know what’s around the corner if we take care of business,” coach Bruce Cassidy said. “I think that’s what we’ve been working towards all year. There’s no secrets there. Now we can start to see the light at the end of the tunnel and I think they understand how we have to play.

“There’s lots of energy. They’ve put their work in. I think the team is in a good place.” 

Tough road ahead

A peek at the standings show the Knights sitting in third place in the Pacific with 92 points, three behind second-place Edmonton and five ahead of fourth-place Los Angeles. They’ve put enough distance between themselves and St. Louis (84 points), the team trying to grab the second wild card spot.

The remaining schedule for Vegas and L.A. are radically different. The Kings don’t leave California the rest of the year and play one team headed to the playoffs (Vancouver on Saturday). They do have a back-to-back schedule upcoming, hosting Seattle Wednesday night and playing Thursday at San Jose.

The Knights return to action Friday in Arizona to start their final road trip of the season. They’ll be in Vancouver next Monday and Edmonton next Wednesday. Their final four games are at T-Mobile Arena against Minnesota on the 12th, Colorado on the 14th, Chicago on the 16th and Anaheim on the 18th. 

Vegas has heated up at the right time, having gone 7-2-1 in its last 10. Goaltender Logan Thompson, who was selected as the NHL’s second Star of the Week for last week, has been playing with renewed confidence. The guys in front of him have been playing better. The team is getting offensive contributions up and down the lineup.

Remember, the Knights are still without captain Mark Stone, who is recovering from a lacerated spleen, and Tomas Hertl, who was acquired from San Jose at the trade deadline March 8. Hertl, who has recovered from knee surgery in February, has been skating with the team this week and is expected to make his VGK debut Friday against the Coyotes at Mullett Arena.

“It’s a long season. You’re going to have ups and downs,” Thompson said Monday. “The guys have been playing really well in front of me. I’m just trying to be in position to stop the puck.”

With Adin Hill out with an unspecified injury, it’s Thompson’s net for the stretch run. If he can stay healthy and continue to play well, the Knights could be in a strong position to make a run in defense of their Stanley Cup title.

Key help from newcomers

Cassidy continues to push the right buttons when it comes to lineups. He has eight healthy defensemen and he has been rotating guys in and out. Noah Hanifin, who the Knights acquired from Calgary prior to the trade deadline, seems to have found his comfort level. He scored his first VGK goal Tuesday and has been paid with Nic Hague.

“One of the first things I noticed when I got here is the culture,” Hanifin said Tuesday. “They want to win.”

Anthony Mantha, the other significant trade deadline pickup, also appears to be getting comfortable. He scored Tuesday and in 13 games with Vegas, has two goals and six assists. 

Meanwhile, pending UFA Jonathan Marchessault continues to make a strong case to receive a big payday. He scored his 41st goal Tuesday and had a three-point first period vs. the Canucks.

He’s two goals away from tying William Karlsson for the franchise record for goals in a season. Karlsson had 43 in the inaugural season of 2017-18.

“We’re trying to collect points,” said Karlsson, who also scored Tuesday and is Mantha’s linemate. “We’ve responded well since that road trip when we lost to Columbus (March 4).”

The turning point

That was the trip that saw Vegas go 1-3-1 with losses to Ottawa (shootout), Buffalo and the Blue Jackets along with a loss to Boston. They were in danger of missing the playoffs.

But as Karlsson said, they got it together, turned things around, and despite not having their full roster intact, have put themselves in a good place. Vegas needs six points in a combination of VGK wins, St. Louis and Minnesota losses to clinch a playoff berth. That could come as early as the end of this week.

As far as a likely playoff scenario is concerned, It’s looking like a Vegas vs. Edmonton matchup in the first round. Next Wednesday at Rogers Place could go a long way towards determining who gets home ice advantage should that pairing materialize. 

“There’s seven games left,” forward Ivan Barbashev said. “Now’s the time to get going.”

See? These guys know how to read a calendar.