Golden Knights Clinch Last Playoff Spot In The Western Conference

0
319
Chandler Stephenson prepares for face off at the dot at T-Mobile Arena against the Dallas Stars. Photo courtesy of the NHL.

The reigning Stanley Cup champions have officially punched their ticket back to the playoffs, where the Vegas Golden Knights will attempt to defend their first championship in franchise history. 

The Golden Knights officially clinched the last playoff spot in the Western Conference after a 7-2 victory over the Minnesota Wild inside the Fortress Saturday night. 

In a game in which offense led the Knights to victory, 13 players registered a point, but nothing was more exciting than the newly acquired forward Tomas Hertl’s first-ever goal in gold. 

With the win, the Golden Knights moved to an overall record of 43-28-8, with 94 total points and three games remaining on the regular season schedule. 

While the goal remains the same for Vegas’ first-ever professional sports franchise, the team entering this season is much different from one year ago. 

Last season, the Golden Knights finished atop the Western Conference with a record of 51-22-9 and 111 points. 

This year, the team may enter from a wildcard spot without home-ice advantage for the entirety of the 2024 playoffs. 

In a recent poll conducted by the NHL Players Association, T-Mobile Arena was voted to be the toughest hockey rink to play in as a visiting team, with 31.6% of the vote. 

However, this season has been a test of trials and tribulations. The Golden Knights have reached the playoffs despite having the highest number of man games lost, with 460, including key time missed by several players who were essential to last year’s cup-winning team, such as captain Mark Stone, Alex Pietrangelo, Adin Hill and Jack Eichel. 

The second closest team to the Golden Knights in that category is the San Jose Sharks, with 400-man games lost, and they currently sit at the bottom of the NHL, well out of a playoff spot.

This may also explain why Golden Knights General Manager Kelly McCrimmon and the team’s front office were so aggressive at the trade deadline in acquiring three top-level talents to bolster the roster. 

The first acquisition was in forward Anthony Mantha from the Washington Capitals for a second and fourth-round draft pick. 

Since joining the team, the 6-foot-5-inch winger has recorded three goals and 10 assists while playing third-line minutes. 

The second player the Golden Knights acquired surprised many: highly sought-after Calgary Flames defenseman Noah Hanifin. 

A team with two top defense pairings talked highly of throughout the NHL got better with the most prominent name defender on the trade market. 

Since his acquisition, Hanifin has posted two goals and nine assists in 17 games played in gold. 

It was also announced on April 11 that he will be staying in Vegas for a long time. Hanifin signed an eight-year contract worth $58.8 million to stay in the desert.

Finally, the Knights waited until the final 60 seconds on trade deadline day to make one last move that shocked the hockey world: the acquisition of Hertl from the San Jose Sharks. 

A trade with an inter-division rival rarely occurs, but the Golden Knights pulled two off in the same week. 

Although Hertl has only played in three games since returning from injured reserve, he has made his presence felt with a goal and an assist while contributing to the powerplay with a net-front presence. 

However, the most notable return to the Golden Knights may be a player already on their roster: their captain, Stone.

Stone has been out of the lineup since Feb. 20 with a lacerated spleen but returned to the ice for team practice in a red no-contact jersey, signaling his imminent return to the ice.

With the Golden Knights finding their health down the stretch, they look to become the third team since 2010 to repeat as Stanley Cup champions, joining the Tampa Bay Lighting and the Pittsburgh Penguins. 

In the current standings, the Golden Knights are slated to face off in a repeat matchup of the 2023 Western Conference Finals against the Dallas Stars.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here