The St. Louis Blues can clinch fourth place and the final playoff spot in the West Division when they began a back-to-back set with the first-place Vegas Golden Knights on Friday night in Las Vegas.
The Blues (24-19-8, 56 points) hold an eight-point lead over the Los Angeles Kings (21-24-6, 48 points) with both teams having five games remaining and a possible 10 points left to garner in the regular season.
The Arizona Coyotes (22-26-6, 50 points), who currently sit in fifth in the West standings, have just two games remaining and were eliminated from the playoff race with a 4-2 loss to the Kings on Wednesday.
Vegas (37-13-2, 76 points) holds a four-point lead over second-place Colorado (34-13-4, 72 points) and has a Monday night contest left with the Avalanche, which still has a game in hand.
So odds are pretty strong that the Friday-Saturday series between the Blues and Golden Knights also is a preview of a first-round playoff matchup.
“It’s a great challenge,” said Blues forward Mike Hoffman. “(The Golden Knights) are a good hockey club obviously. It’s a good test for ourselves. We’re going to have to be prepared and everyone is going to have to be playing for 60 minutes if we want to go there and put on a good performance.”
Such wasn’t the case on Wednesday night when the Blues fell in a 3-2 shootout loss to Anaheim.
“I thought we (had a) lack of intensity in the second period more than anything,” said St. Louis coach Craig Berube. “Not making hard plays, direct plays, not checking, just not being physical and hard to play against in the second period, and just not very good execution with the puck tonight. … We’ve got to find some energy here again.”
Vegas took a big step toward a possible No. 1 seed in the West with a 3-2 overtime victory over third-place Minnesota on Wednesday night. It snapped a five-game losing streak against the Wild and marked just the second time in eight games all-time in Saint Paul that the Golden Knights came away with points (2-6-0).
It looked like Minnesota was going to make it six straight over Vegas when Kirill Kaprizov scored twice in the third period, the second at the 13:23 mark, to give the Wild a 2-1 lead. But the Golden Knights tied it on a Reilly Smith power-play goal with 4:16 left and Alex Pietrangelo won it with a goal at 1:53 into overtime.
“It was a hard-fought game, and a real gutsy effort by our guys,” said Vegas coach Peter DeBoer. “Coming back the way they did in the third again, it looked like the same story as the other night (when the Wild score three times in the third to pull out a 6-5 victory), but I loved our response. We were better tonight, we deserved to win tonight.
“I’m glad we could end the curse (against the Wild), at least for tonight.”
It was also a milestone night for Vegas goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who made 26 saves while picking up the 490th win of his career, breaking a tie with Roberto Luongo for third place on the all-time wins list behind Martin Brodeur (691) and Patrick Roy (551).
“I knew this season was a short season and both me and Robin (Lehner) get to play,” Fleury, who improved to 24-10-0 with a 2.07 goals-against average this season, said. “I didn’t think I was going to reach Roberto and I’m pretty honored to have a chance to play enough and play with such a great team that allowed me to catch him.”
–Field Level Media