Vegas Golden Knights, Dallas Stars Go Head-To-Head Tuesday For Last NHL Playoff Spot
With less than a week to go in the NHL’s 2021-22 regular season, a high-stakes game with major playoff implications is set to go down on Tuesday night.
Sitting in the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference with three games left to play, the Dallas Stars are three points ahead of the Vegas Golden Knights, who also have three games remaining. The two teams will got head-to-head in Dallas on Tuesday (8: 30 p.m. ET).
Vegas holds the 2-0 edge in the season series, winning 3-2 in overtime in Dallas on October 27 and 5-4 at T-Mobile Arena on December 8.
As of Monday, MoneyPuck has the Stars’ odds of reaching the postseason at 87%, while the Golden Knights are at 15.3%. Higher up in the West, the Los Angeles Kings’ and Nashville Predators’ odds are both greater than 98%, but they have not yet officially clinched their playoff spots.
There’s also still one narrow path available for the Vancouver Canucks, sitting at less than 1%. The Canucks would need to win all three of their remaining games while the Stars lose all three of theirs, and Vegas only beats Dallas while losing its two other games.
An overtime or shootout win for either Dallas or Vegas on Tuesday would eliminate Vancouver, but still leaves several other possible outcomes still on the table.
If the Stars win Tuesday’s game within 60 minutes, they’ll move to 95 points and lock in a return to the playoffs, after missing out by four points last year. The Kings and Predators would also clinch, and Vegas would miss the playoffs for the first time since joining the NHL in 2017.
Golden Knights On The Brink
If that happens, it would be a crushing setback for the Vegas franchise, which reached the Stanley Cup Final in its first season and was part of the final four in the last two years.
The club’s management, led by president of hockey operations George McPhee and general manager Kelly McCrimmon, has never hesitated to go after the biggest stars who become available. Last November, they took arguably their biggest swing yet when they acquired injured center Jack Eichel from the Buffalo Sabres.
After undergoing an artificial disk replacement surgery in his neck, a procedure which had never previously been performed on an NHL player, Eichel debuted for Vegas on Feb. 16. He has 12 goals and 21 points in 31 games. But he had a six-game point streak snapped in the Golden Knights’ 4-0 loss to Edmonton on April 16 and is now pointless in his last four games.
Before Eichel’s arrival, Vegas was 28-17-9, and sitting one point out of first place in the Pacific Division. In the ensuing 31 games, they’ve gone 14-14-3.
Plenty of other drama has also swirled around the club. Lately, it’s headlined by goaltender Robin Lehner, whose status as the club’s No. 1 netminder was affirmed when Marc-Andre Fleury was traded last July.
But Lehner has dealt with injury issues, and backup Laurent Brossoit also hasn’t played since mid-March. That has left undrafted 25-year-old minor leaguer Logan Thompson to carry the bulk of the load in net.
Last week, ESPN and other outlets reported that Lehner was finished for the season and would be undergoing knee surgery. Vegas coach Peter DeBoer disputed those reports, and Lehner was in uniform and backed up Thompson in the Golden Knights’ 5-4 shootout loss to the San Jose Sharks on Sunday.
On Monday, the club announced Monday that Lehner is undergoing shoulder surgery for an injury that he suffered in February, and that Jiri Patera is being called up from their AHL affiliate. The 23-year-old has never played an NHL game.
After the March 21 trade deadline, the Golden Knights were also mired in controversy after their attempt to trade forward Evgenii Dadonov to the Anaheim Ducks was reversed by the league. Dadonov had a 10-team no-trade clause which included Anaheim but somehow, it was believed that clause had been voided before Dadonov was acquired by Vegas from the Ottawa Senators last July.
After sitting out two games before his no-trade clause was verified and the situation was resolved, Dadonov has 14 points in 13 games since returning to the Vegas lineup, including two game-winning goals. But Vegas is now on the hook for his $5 million cap hit for this season and next year. That, plus the addition of Eichel’s $10 million, has forced Vegas into some elaborate salary gymnastics in order to stay cap compliant through the end of the regular season. The cap does not apply in the playoffs — but that won’t matter if there are no playoffs.
Stars At A Crossroads
Two years ago, the Dallas Stars went on an unlikely run in the Stanley Cup bubble in Edmonton. They knocked out the Calgary Flames, Colorado Avalanche and the Golden Knights before falling in six games to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2020 Stanley Cup Final.
At that time, Rick Bowness had recently been elevated from his associate coach role after Jim Montgomery was dismissed due to inappropriate behavior. There are whispers that Bowness, 67, may not return to the Dallas bench next season and could retire — an outcome that probably becomes more likely if the Stars don’t reach the postseason.
In 2020, well-travelled veteran Anton Khudobin played hero in net for the Stars after Ben Bishop was sidelined with an injury which has now proven to be career-ending. Early this season, free-agent signing Braden Holtby helped carry the load as Khudobin struggled. When Holtby was hurt, the net was turned over to 23-year-old Jake Oettinger, who has been ably assisted by under-the-radar trade-deadline acquisition Scott Wedgewood.
The Stars’ skaters are a hodgepodge of grizzled veterans and up-and-coming youngsters.
After hitting a home run when he acquired then-34-year-old Joe Pavelski as an unrestricted free agent in 2019, Dallas general manager Jim Nill walked a similar path when he signed 36-year-old defenseman Ryan Suter last summer.
Pavelski remains the Stars’ leading scorer and has signed a one-year contract extension for next season. But with franchise stalwarts Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin now seemingly on the downside of their career arcs, the baton is being passed to young forwards Roope Hintz and Jason Robertson, who are both flirting with 40-goal seasons, and dynamic defenseman Miro Heiskanen.
Inconsistency has plagued the Stars this season, keeping them on the playoff bubble for most of the year. But they’ve been a strong team on home ice, with a record of 25-10-3. And their final three regular-season games will all be played at American Airlines Center — against Vegas on Tuesday, followed by the non-contending Arizona Coyotes on Wednesday and Anaheim Ducks on Friday.
Vegas must get at least a point on Tuesday night in order to keep their playoff hopes alive. Dallas has a few days’ more runaway available if needed.
This Friday will mark the last day of regular-season action for the NHL’s playoff-bound teams. The Seattle Kraken and Winnipeg Jets, both outside the playoff picture, will make up a game that was postponed due to weather on Sunday, May 1, and the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs is set to kick off on Monday, May 2.
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