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Looking to improve wild-card grip, Knights face Kraken

Mar 19, 2024; Las Vegas, Nevada, USA; Vegas Golden Knights center Ivan Barbashev (49) attempts to control the puck between Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Erik Cernak (81) and Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Matt Dumba (24) during the second period at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

With the Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues nipping at their heels for the final wild-card spot in the Western Conference playoff race, the defending Stanley Cup champion Vegas Golden Knights host the slumping Seattle Kraken on Thursday night in Las Vegas.

It’s the third game of a four-game homestand for Vegas (36-25-7, 79 points), and the run concludes Saturday against the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Kraken (28-27-12, 68 points) and Blue Jackets rank in the bottom eight of the league in points, so getting positive results in both will be important for the Golden Knights.

Vegas then embarks on a difficult four-game road trip that starts with a back-to-back set against St. Louis and Nashville. The trip also includes stops at the Central Division co-leader Winnipeg Jets and in Saint Paul, Minn., to face the surging Wild.

The Golden Knights come in off a 5-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday as NHL scoring leader Nikita Kucherov had a goal and three assists and Brayden Point scored twice during a three-goal third period for the Lightning.

“It’s a tough one, especially this time of year,” Vegas defenseman Alec Martinez said. “We’ve just got to keep grinding and bounce back.

“Points are crucial this time of year. We’ve had too many mental lapses. They’ve got a really good hockey club, especially offensively, and they capitalized. We didn’t.”

It was the sixth loss in the last nine games for the Golden Knights.

“I don’t think there’s a guy in the room that’s deflated,” Martinez said. “We know what we’re capable of. Games like this are going to happen. We’re not going to let it affect us. We’ll look at what we need to improve on and take it to the next game and focus on that.”

Vegas coach Bruce Cassidy, who openly questioned his team’s sense of urgency after a 4-1 loss to the Flames in Calgary on March 14, said he “liked our game a lot tonight” after the loss to the Lightning.

“I didn’t leave the game anxious about how we’re playing,” Cassidy said. “I think we played a pretty good game start to finish. We played well enough to win but didn’t. The position we’re in at this time of year, you can’t have too many of those.”

Seattle, the Cinderella story of the 2023 season after earning the first wild card with 100 points and advancing to the second round of the Western Conference playoffs, limps into Las Vegas after a disastrous five-game homestand during which it dropped all five games (0-4-1), pretty much ending its playoff hopes. The Kraken, in sixth place in the Pacific Division, are 11 points behind Vegas for the final wild-card spot with just 15 games and a possible 30 points remaining.

“The line between winning and losing is so thin, and right now we’re on the other side of it,” forward Jordan Eberle said.

In Monday’s 6-2 loss to the Buffalo Sabres, Eberle scored 24 seconds into the game. but the Sabres responded with three goals in less than six minutes.

“Just extremely frustrated, obviously, with the time of the year and where we’re at,” Eberle said. “Confidence goes a long ways in this league. When you’re feeling confident as a team, you create more, you hold on to pucks a little longer, and you do more. We don’t really have that right now. We need to find that.”

–Field Level Media

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