It’s official: Vegas will miss the NHL Posteason for the first time in franchise history.
The Golden Knights’ second-half collapse of the season left faint hopes in the playoffs, and those hopes were completely dashed on Wednesday in the 4-3 penalty shootout loss to the hosts Chicago.
To survive, Vegas had to defeat the Blackhawks by any means and Dallas had to lose in regulation to Arizona. The Stars and Golden Knights played each other on Tuesday, as a Dallas win on the regulation slate would have wiped out Vegas completely. Vegas led Dallas twice in that match, but eventually fell on penalties.
That magic number put Dallas to seal a spot ahead of Vegas at one point, which made it corny with Wednesday’s Vegas loss to Arizona.
Now that the stars have clinched the last western place in the playoff game, the 16-team field is set. The determination of seeding will continue this week.
“I’m amazed. I’m disappointed. I’m at the front of the line for responsibility,” said Vegas coach Peter Debor. “There are a lot of expectations from this team. It’s not easy and it doesn’t feel good for anyone at the moment.”
For the Golden Knights, this turns out to be a wasted season. The expansion club had conducted the playoffs in each of the past four seasons, advancing to the Stanley Cup Final in its inaugural 2017-18 campaign.
Vegas looked like it could be a contender again this season. In early February, the Golden Knights were in the top 10 in the league with a 28-16-3 score and had not suffered consecutive losses in regulation in over two months.
Around the same time, Captain Mark Stone was sidelined with an injury from which he would not return until early April. That was a big loss but Stone’s transfer to the Long Term Injury Reserve allowed Vegas to revitalize Jacques Eichel after he recovered from herniated disc surgery.
The Golden Knights arranged a huge trade with Buffalo in November to get Eshel on board and put her over the top. And for Eichel, joining Vegas means a chance to finally appear in the first playoffs of his career after failing to make it past the 2015-2021 season with the Sabers.
Eshel produced for his new team, amassing 12 goals and 22 points in 33 games. It was all the other issues the Golden Knights faced that threw them down.
Major injuries to Stone, Max Pasurietti, Robin Lehner, Riley Smith and others took their toll. Stone was able to rejoin the squad on April 12, but was useless in his first six matches. And then Lehner, after suffering shoulder and leg injuries, was forced to undergo end-of-season surgery earlier this week.
“On paper, what would anyone say we’re missing out on? We have it all,” Pasuritti said. “But at the same time, everyone knows that hard work trumps that talent on paper, chemistry perhaps most important, on and off the ice.”
Then the future of Vegas break settled on rookie Logan Thompson, who entered Tuesday’s game with a solid 14-9-5 record and 0.917 save percentage (best among new goalkeepers with at least 10 starts).
Vegas hasn’t been able to overcome its own defensive deficiencies despite letting Thompson dry up over and over lately. Against the humble San Jose Sharks on Sunday, the Golden Knights twice took a 3-1, 4-2 lead only to scatter along the field and lose in a penalty shootout.
In the end, Vegas lacked consistency, among other things, when it needed it most.
“Obviously there will be a lot of time to think,” Pasurietti said. “A lot of decisions at this point will be out of the players’ control, but you have to expect when the team’s performance is below the level we have this year, all bets are off.”