The Golden Knights turned qualifying for the postseason into a Rube Goldberg machine.
For those not familiar, the contraptions are named after the early 20th century cartoonist and are designed to perform a simple task in a complicated fashion. Think the board game Mouse Trap.
The Knights took a circuitous route to the playoffs Friday, falling 3-2 to the Minnesota Wild at T-Mobile Arena. But they backed into the playoffs courtesy of Arizona’s shootout loss at Colorado.
“I think every team’s ultimate goal at the start of the year is to make the postseason, because once you’re in the postseason you have to get beat four out of seven,” right wing Mark Stone said. “We’re obviously excited to be going there, but we want to be playing better hockey.”
Paul Stastny had both goals for the Knights, who lost their fourth in a row (0-3-1) and remained five points behind the Sharks for second place in the Pacific Division.
The Knights travel to San Jose on Saturday to finish the back-to-back.
“Sometimes you get kind of comfortable a little bit and you get ready for playoffs, but at the same time, we’ve got to know that we want to hit our peak at playoffs,” Stastny said. “We can’t just turn the switch on. That’s the hardest thing to do, and that’s the mentality we’ve got to get out of.”
Eric Staal had a goal and an assist for Minnesota, which remained in the hunt for the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference, and Jason Zucker added two assists against his hometown club.
Defenseman Greg Pateryn scored his first goal in 130 games to end the longest active goalless streak in the NHL, while Kevin Fiala added a power-play goal at 11:22 of the second period to give the Wild a 3-0 lead.
Minnesota finished 2-for-4 on the power play and improved to 5-0-1 all time against the Knights.
Malcolm Subban made his seventh straight start and suffered his first regulation loss at home (5-1-1). He finished with 29 saves, but also was at fault on the Wild’s first goal.
“You never want to get behind the eight-ball like we did again and chase the game,” Subban said. “I’m sure we’ll think more about it on the plane ride (to San Jose), but this is a tough loss. Try and figure out what we can do better. There’s a good chance we’re looking at a playoff matchup against (the Sharks), so we’ll have to be focused right from the start.”
Wild goaltender Devan Dubnyk made 35 stops, including a glove save on the goal line to deny Stone’s wraparound attempt midway through the second period.
Stastny converted a rebound with two minutes remaining in the second moments after a power play ended to cut Minnesota’s lead to 3-1, and he banged in a pass from Max Pacioretty at 8:52 of the third to make it a one-goal game.
The Knights had a chance late to tie but were unable to beat Dubnyk after a scramble in front of the net.
“I don’t like to let our players off the hook, but that’s what happens this time of year,” coach Gerard Gallant said. “I like the way we played the last half of the game. We were aggressive and our forecheck was a lot better and that’s what we need to do going forward.”
Minnesota played without leading scorer Zach Parise but took the lead 2:12 into the first period when Pateryn skated down the right wing and threw a shot toward the net that went off the inside of Subban’s pad.
Staal put the Wild up 2-0 late in the first when he deflected Zucker’s shot past Subban on a power play.
“You can’t get behind in this league,” Stone said. “It’s too good of a league to give the other team goals, and tonight we did that. We can’t be putting ourselves in those situations.”
Who: Golden Knights at Sharks
When: 6 p.m. Saturday
Where: SAP Center, San Jose, Calif.
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); ESPN Deportes (1460 AM)
Line: Sharks -140; total 6
1. Bellemare sits. Golden Knights center Pierre-Edouard Bellemare was one of the Knights’ scratches and has now missed four of the past five games with a lower-body injury. Bellemare was a full participant at Friday’s morning skate. Ryan Carpenter took his spot on the fourth line.
2. Slow start. The Knights’ first-period struggles continued, as Minnesota produced two goals in the opening 20 minutes. It’s the fourth consecutive game the Knights have trailed at the end of the first period, and they’ve been outscored 6-0 in the first during stretch.
3. Zucker time. Wild forward Jason Zucker continued his memorable week. His wife, Carly, gave birth to their daughter on Wednesday, and it initially appeared the longtime valley resident scored in the first period but was credited with an assist instead. Regardless, it was his 40th point, the third straight year he’s reached that plateau.
David Schoen Review-Journal