ST. LOUIS — Gerard Gallant was 59 words and seven sentences into his answer when the Golden Knights coach stopped and gave himself a figurative slap on the wrist.
“We’re still not in the playoffs yet,” he said. “I got ahead of myself there.”
While Gallant tries to keep from looking too far ahead, the magic number for the defending Western Conference champions is down to one.
The Knights (42-27-6, 90 points) can lock up their spot in the postseason Monday with a victory or overtime/shootout loss against the St. Louis Blues at Enterprise Center.
“The challenge for us is to keep playing the way we’re playing,” Gallant said. “I don’t care who we’re playing or when we’re playing or back-to-back. Let’s just try and keep playing the same game we’re playing. That’s all I want from our group.
“You keep winning. You keep playing. You don’t know who you’re going to meet in the playoffs. You don’t know who down the road. You get as many points as you can get. And if we get home ice some time in the series, that’s great. If we don’t and start on the road, it’s no big deal, either.”
Arizona’s 2-0 loss at the New York Islanders on Sunday means the fourth-place Coyotes (79 points, six games remaining) can finish with a maximum of 91 points.
The Knights, who bagged a point Saturday despite a sub-par performance in a 3-2 overtime loss to Detroit, also own the tiebreaker with Arizona thanks to more regulation plus overtime victories (39 to 32).
Last season, the Knights clinched their playoff berth in Game No. 76 on March 26. Coincidentally, they will play their 76th game when they meet the surging Blues (40-27-8, 88 points).
“You’ve got to fight for points every night,” Gallant said. “When you go into a game and it doesn’t mean nothing, it’s no fun playing those games and we don’t want to do that. We want to play every game for a reason.”
The Knights, who are 10-1-1 since acquiring Mark Stone at the trade deadline, still have plenty at stake in the final two weeks of the regular season.
They trail the Sharks by five points for second place in the Pacific Division with seven games remaining, and the clubs meet Saturday in San Jose in a game that could help decide home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
“I think that’s definitely on our mind,” forward Ryan Carpenter said. “I think as a group, this time of year we just want to be playing our best hockey and starting to peak. It’s been nice getting the wins, and just having this momentum and this confidence, and hopefully it will carry over. … This time of year, these games seem to matter that much more and seem to be that much tighter.”
Also, the Knights trail Central Division leader Winnipeg by four points and are level with Nashville (90 points) with a game in hand on the Predators.
Should the Knights finish ahead of either of those teams in points, they would have home-ice advantage in a best-of-seven Western Conference Final.
The Knights did not play a Game 7 during last season’s run to the Stanley Cup Final.
“We were voted what, the No. 1 atmosphere, No. 1 arena?” Carpenter said, referring to the results of the NHL Players’ Association poll. “And just the crowd, the way they’re into it, we definitely feed off the energy. If we had to play a Game 7, if it was ever in that situation, we definitely would want to be here.”
Who: Golden Knights at Blues
When: 5 p.m. Monday
Where: Enterprise Center, St. Louis
TV: AT&T SportsNet (Cox 313/1313, DirecTV 684, CenturyLink 760/1760, U-verse 757/1757, Dish 414/5414)
Radio: KRLV (98.9 FM, 1340 AM)
1. New phone, who dis? The Knights lost the first two meetings against St. Louis and will see a new-and-improved squad that has climbed to third in the Central Division. St. Louis is 33-18-5 since Craig Berube took over as coach, and rookie goaltender Jordan Binnington (NHL-best 1.84 goals-against average) has been key to the turnaround.
2. Forget about it. Coach Gerard Gallant said the Knights were flat in Saturday’s 3-2 overtime loss to Detroit, so maybe a quick road trip will be a good thing. The Knights have won four of their past five games away from home and are 19-17-1 on the road.
3. Rude hosts. Goaltender Malcolm Subban suffered his first home loss against the Red Wings, but he needs to find a rhythm on the road. He is 2-7 with a 3.47 GAA and .894 save percentage in nine starts. Subban also has a history in this building, having been pulled in his first career NHL start in 2015.