The Vegas Golden Knights only need six more points to clinch a National Hockey League postseason berth in their inaugural season, which is amazing for an expansion team. Despite a two-game losing streak currently at T-Mobile Arena, the team definitely wants to secure as many home-ice games as possible in the Stanley Cup playoffs ahead.
Sunday’s game against the Calgary Flames (35-27-10) has significant meaning for both teams, as the Flames are trying to catch the three teams ahead of them in the Western Conference chase for the final wild-card spot. Meanwhile, the Golden Knights’ lead in the Pacific Division is down to six points over the San Jose Sharks, even though Vegas has a game in hand.
A first-place finish in the Pacific means home-ice advantage for the first two rounds of the playoffs, while a second-place division result means only home-ice advantage for one round of the postseason. The good news is the Golden Knights have an 11-point lead over the Los Angeles Kings for that third position, with an extra game to play as well.
Vegas obviously wants as much home ice as it can get for the playoffs. While the Golden Knights have lost two straight and six of their last ten, the Sharks have won four straight. The two teams also play each other twice more this season: March 22 in San Jose and March 31 in Las Vegas in the Vegas regular-season home finale.
A first-place division finish means the Golden Knights would take on the first Western Conference wild-card team in the first round, while a second-place division finish means Vegas would play the third-place Pacific team. Based on these parameters, these are the three most probable first-round matchups for the Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup playoffs next month.
1. Colorado Avalanche: Currently in the top wild-card sport with 84 points and a game in hand over the Dallas Stars, the Avs and the Golden Knights actually play twice more this season as well. The matchups come in back-to-back games on March 24 in Denver and March 26 in Sin City. The two teams have played once this season, a 7-0 win for the Golden Knights back on October 27 at T-Mobile. The two remaining games will play a large role in determining each team’s playoff position.
2. Dallas Stars: Vegas went 2-1 against Dallas this year, winning the first game on the season on the road and another game in Dallas on December 9. However, the Golden Knights lost at home to the Stars, 3-0, on November 28. That was the first shutout loss in Vegas franchise history. Technically, Dallas is tied with Anaheim for that final Western Conference playoff spot, but the Stars have the tiebreak advantage over the Ducks based on regulation/overtime wins (34-32).
3. Los Angeles Kings: The two teams played four times this year already, with the Golden Knights winning the first two games and the Kings winning the last two (on back-to-back nights, no less, late last month). This is not a preferable matchup for Vegas, as Los Angeles has an experienced and playoff-tested goaltender in Jonathan Quick. He backstopped the Kings to Cup titles in 2012 and 2014. Strangely, L.A. also is tied with Anaheim for the third spot in the Pacific, but again, the Ducks lose the tiebreak to the Kings (by an even larger margin, 37-32).
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