Updated April 19, 2022 - 7:31 am
Center Jack Eichel, right wing Mark Stone and left wings Jonathan Marchessault and Max Pacioretty drifted across the ice hunched over with their sticks on their knees when it was over.
Stone slammed his stick on the boards when he reached the bench to leave. That was how things ended for the Golden Knights on Monday night against the New Jersey Devils. In frustration and defeat.
Left wing Andreas Johnsson scored a tiebreaking goal 3:14 into the third period, and the Devils won 3-2 in front of an announced crowd of 18,077 at T-Mobile Arena to deal a critical blow to the Knights’ playoff hopes.
One team entered with everything to play for. The other, nothing but pride.
It turns out pride was enough.
“At the end of the day, no one’s going to make us play in the playoffs,” Marchessault said. “We have to earn it, and we’re definitely not earning it.”
There are images from Monday that probably will be burned into the Knights’ brains if they’re no longer playing hockey at the end of the month.
Their 23 missed shots. The stunned building in the third period. The frame of center Jesper Boqvist muscling his way toward the net for a game-winning goal that warmed the hearts of every Los Angeles, Dallas and Nashville fan.
It wasn’t supposed to go that way for the Knights. They were at home and facing a team that entered Monday with the fifth-fewest points in the NHL. The opposing goaltender was 34-year-old Andrew Hammond, who had a 3.98 goals-against average and .874 save percentage.
Yet it was New Jersey that took a 1-0 lead 6:54 into the first period when right wing Nathan Bastian poked a rebound into the net. The Knights gave themselves several great opportunities to tie the game, but kept shooting wide of Hammond or above him.
Right wing Keegan Kolesar seemed to right the ship with 2:23 remaining in the second period when his centering pass went off defenseman P.K. Subban and into the net to tie the game at 1.
But the Knights never built on it. Johnsson gave the Devils the lead again before Boqvist provided the finishing blow. The center deked around defenseman Alex Pietrangelo and scored with center Chandler Stephenson on his back 7:57 into the third period.
The Devils didn’t put another shot on goal. It didn’t matter. Stephenson scored after the Knights pulled goalie Robin Lehner, but they couldn’t come up with the tying goal.
The club couldn’t take care of business in one of its three final home games. Now, its playoff dreams are hanging by a thread.
“This is pretty disappointing,” defenseman Alec Martinez said. “But we can’t give up.”
Here are three takeaways from the loss:
1. Standings situation
The loss leaves the Knights with almost no margin for error in their final five games. Or exactly none, according to coach Pete DeBoer.
“I think we have to win them all,” DeBoer said. “That’s pretty simple. “
The Knights trail Los Angeles by three points for the third and final playoff spot in the Pacific Division. They trail Dallas and Nashville by four points in the wild-card chase, and both teams have a game in hand. Nashville also holds the regulation wins tiebreaker over the Knights 35-33.
There also is pressure from behind in the standings. Vancouver won its sixth straight Monday to move a point behind the Knights with a game in hand. The Canucks can move ahead Tuesday with a win against Ottawa.
2. Goalie decision
DeBoer opted to start Lehner after rookie Logan Thompson got the net in the previous two games.
Lehner, who left the team’s road trip early Friday because of a family member’s health situation, allowed three goals on 28 shots. He fell to 2-2-1 with an .889 save percentage since returning from a lower-body injury April 3.
Hammond made 42 saves for his fourth win.
“I think this time of year you’re looking for your guy to be better than the guy at the other end,” DeBoer said. “That wasn’t the case tonight.”
3. Missed opportunities
The Knights still could have tested Hammond more despite all his saves.
Center Nicolas Roy shot wide on a breakaway in the first period and hit the post on another in the second. Kolesar couldn’t get a shot off on a partial breakaway in the first. Right wing Michael Amadio missed a golden opportunity in the second. There were others, even late in the game.
The Knights finished with 44 shots on goal, but their 23 misses and New Jersey’s 24 blocks held back their offense.
“The good chances that we get, we don’t bear down,” Marchessault said. “And that’s why we’re losing games.”