The message coming out of the Golden Knights locker room has been repeated multiple times, in all sorts of different ways, during the past few days.
Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Alex Tuch mentioned it prior to Saturday’s game in Colorado, and Jonathan Marchessault alluded to it after the 2-1 shootout loss to the Avalanche.
With the Knights on the verge of locking up a playoff berth — Anaheim’s 5-4 overtime win over Edmonton on Sunday only delayed the inevitable — their attention has turned from clinching toward finding consistency over the final two weeks of the season.
“To be honest, we’ve been focusing every game on being a little bit better,” Bellemare said. “And I think (vs. San Jose on Thursday) we relied way too much on our goalie. So I don’t think that we’re thinking about that team we’re playing. I think we’re more focusing about what we can do to not give a 40-minute (effort) or 20 minutes. Make sure we are a complete, 60-minute team.”
The Knights (47-21-7, 101 points) can become the first expansion team to reach the playoffs in its inaugural season since the league expanded for the 1967-68 season with a victory over the Avalanche (41-26-8, 90 points) when they conclude the home-and-home series at 7 p.m. Monday at T-Mobile Arena.
A Los Angeles loss against visiting Calgary on Monday also would put an X next to the Knights in the standings.
Then they will try to hold off hard-charging San Jose, which owns a seven-game winning streak, for the Pacific Division title.
“We’ve got to compete and battle hard,” coach Gerard Gallant said prior to Saturday’s game. “Whether we get the X today or the X the next game after that, whenever it’s going to happen. I mean, we feel pretty comfortable and we’re playing well. But, again, I want us to play well every day.
“I don’t want us to come into a game and say, ‘Well, we made the playoffs. We got the X beside our name. We can relax.’ You can’t relax. You’ve got to play hard every game. You’ve got to play hard every shift and you’ve got to get prepared.”
The Knights lead San Jose (43-23-9) by six points with seven games remaining and, with some help, could lock up the Pacific Division before the Sharks visit T-Mobile Arena on Saturday to close out the four-game homestand.
The Avalanche are leading an intense race for the Western Conference’s two wild-card spots and are hot on the heels of Minnesota for third place in the Central Division.
Anaheim, Los Angeles and St. Louis also are battling for a spot in the postseason, while Dallas has lost three straight and is fading from contention.
Despite earning two important points during their recently completed two-game road trip, the Knights struggled to put together a full game.
After a strong first period in San Jose, the Knights were outplayed for most of the final two periods in a 2-1 overtime loss. They slogged their way through two periods in Colorado before cranking up the pressure in the third period and OT.
“It’s tough any time when you’re going to be consistent for 60 minutes,” Gallant said. “That’s what we want, that’s what we demand. But, again, we played a great 20 minutes the other night to start the game off. I thought we had San Jose on their heels and then second period, just a complete reversal. So, got to focus, got to play hard for 60 and that’s how you win most of the hockey games.”
Who: Golden Knights vs. Avalanche
When: 7 p.m. Monday
Where: T-Mobile Arena
TV: AT&T SportsNet (Cox 313/1313, DirecTV 684, CenturyLink 760/1760, U-verse 757/1757)
Radio: KRLV (98.9 FM, 1340 AM); ESPN Deportes (1460 AM)
Line: Golden Knights -175; total 6, under -120
1. Upper hand. The teams wrap up the season series but this might not be the last meeting. The Golden Knights don’t want to lose two straight to the youthful Avalanche and give them any added confidence should they tangle in the first round of the playoffs.
2. Push the pace. The Knights were bottled up for most of two periods Saturday, then pelted Avalanche goaltender Semyon Varlamov with pucks during the third period and OT. It will be interesting to see which team dictates the tempo this time.
3. Engelland status. Defenseman Deryk Engelland sat out Saturday’s game, and coach Gerard Gallant did not disclose whether he was injured or resting. If No. 5 takes the ice at Monday’s morning skate, expect him to be in the lineup.