DENVER — The Golden Knights had an opportunity to clinch a playoff spot Saturday without help from any other teams.
Actually, they had nearly 20 chances to do it.
Colorado goaltender Semyon Varlamov made 17 of his 39 saves after Jonathan Marchessault tied the game at 1 early in the third period, and the Knights eventually lost 2-1 in a shootout to the Avalanche in front of an announced crowd of 18,042.
“It’s always disappointing when you lose that way,” Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury said. “We’ll take every point, that’s for sure. We’re still fighting to stay in first here, but wins are nice, especially this is a team we could meet in the playoffs.”
The Knights (47-21-7, 101 points) would have locked up a playoff spot with a victory over the Avalanche thanks to an intricate set a tiebreakers.
Instead, they saw their lead over San Jose in the Pacific Division sliced to six points with seven games remaining and will wait to see whether Anaheim loses Sunday at Edmonton, which would put an “X” next to the Knights in the standings.
If not, the Knights can clinch when they close out the home-and-home with Colorado (41-26-8, 90 points) at 7 p.m. Monday at T-Mobile Arena.
Colorado leaped into the first wild-card spot with the victory and would meet the Knights in the opening round of the playoffs if the standings hold through the conclusion of the regular season.
And if the third period and overtime are any indication, it would be one heck of a series.
“I don’t know about the playoff preview, but (Saturday’s) game was a good game,” Knights coach Gerard Gallant said. “They came out early in the hockey game and took it to us pretty good. And I thought the second half of the game we turned it around and took it to them pretty good. … The guys just seemed to be a little hungrier in the second half of the game.”
Fleury, who returned to action after missing Thursday’s game at San Jose with an undisclosed injury, finished with 29 saves.
He made a key stop on Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog from close range 21 seconds into the third period and denied Erik Johnson on a breakaway in overtime.
Fleury also was involved in a heart-pounding moment at 5:15 of the third when he left his crease but lost a race for a loose puck to Colorado’s Blake Comeau inside the Knights’ blue line.
Fleury went for the pokecheck, and Comeau lost his balance while avoiding the stick and was unable to push the puck into an open net from his stomach.
“I felt like the puck stopped a bit, it slowed down. It was a longer skate than I wanted to,” Fleury. “It’s not a good feeling when you throw everything at the guy and try to make him go wide or fumble … when he just goes around you and you don’t touch it.”
The Knights outshot Colorado 19-8 in the third period and overtime but managed only Marchessault’s 24th goal of the season at 1:15 of the third.
James Neal was turned away by Varlamov midway through the extra session, and Shea Theodore had three shots on goal in OT but was unable to convert.
“We had good chances, but that goalie just played on his head,” Marchessault said. “He was good.”
David Perron, Erik Haula and Marchessault went 0-for-3 in the shootout before Landeskog beat Fleury for the winner on the Avalanche’s third attempt in the shootout.
The Knights had been 9-0 in day games, but fell behind with 6:08 remaining in the first period when Carl Soderberg roofed a shot over Fleury after Alexander Kerfoot made a nifty move along the wall to get away from Theodore and create a 2-on-1 down low.
“The first (period), we were definitely sloppy,” Marchessault said. “We need to do a better job playing 60 minutes. If we do that, we’ll be fine for playoffs. But we were facing a team that were desperate.”
1. Perron takes pounding. Golden Knights forward David Perron showed his toughness on two occasions Saturday. He blocked a shot in the first period and had to limp to the bench, and was involved in a huge collision with Carl Soderberg in the third. Perron never missed a shift.
2. Lock down. The Knights held Avalanche forwards Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen off the scoresheet, which not many teams have done lately. MacKinnon entered with a career-high 14-game points streak, and Rantanen saw his eight-game points streak end.
3. Forget faceoffs. Linesmen Trent Knorr and Brandon Gawryletz didn’t have much to do the second half of the game, as the Knights and Avalanche produced end-to-end action. The teams went more than six minutes without a whistle in the second period and did it again during an exciting third period.