Gerard Gallant’s mood changes faster than a left-turn signal on Silverado Ranch Boulevard whenever the topic of the postseason is broached.
“I don’t want to talk about the playoffs,” the Golden Knights coach said before the All-Star break.
With the exception of an occasional slip of the tongue, Gallant and the players have avoided discussing the postseason — at least in public.
But as the Knights tighten their grip on the top spot in the Pacific Division with 28 games remaining in the regular season, they might not be able to dodge the subject much longer.
The Knights begin a seven-game homestand at 5 p.m. Sunday against the Philadelphia Flyers, and when it ends Feb. 23, it could be time to start calculating a magic number for the expansion team to clinch a playoff berth.
“I don’t really want to talk about (the playoffs) for the sole fact that we’re having so much fun in this room with our guys every day,” defenseman Nate Schmidt told NHL.com last month. “If you start talking about it, you’re hitting the fast-forward button on the year, and I don’t really want to do that because of how cool our room has been. You don’t get these times back. It goes too fast.”
The Knights (36-14-4, 76 points) have an 11-point lead over the Los Angeles Kings in the Pacific Division entering Saturday’s action.
As it currently stands, the Knights can’t mathematically lock up a playoff berth until late next month.
The Anaheim Ducks and Calgary Flames are tied for fourth in the Pacific Division with 64 points — the same point total as third-place San Jose, which has played fewer games.
The Ducks, with 26 games remaining, have a maximum point total of 116; the Flames (27 games left) can reach 118 points. Based on that formula, the earliest the Knights can surpass 118 points and clinch is March 26.
Of course, that date and point total will change every time the Knights win and the teams below them fail to accumulate points.
“Obviously they are what their record says they are. They’re one of the top teams in the league right now,” Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “What I see when I watch their team, I think the strength of their team is in their balance. There’s not a significant difference between their first line and their fourth line.
“They just have a lot of good players, and their coaching staff has done a great job of getting them to buy in to a style of play. And they’re hard to play against. They’re quick, and they play a hard game out there.”
Since the NHL went to its current postseason format beginning with the 2013-14 season, the final wild-card team in the Western Conference has ranged from a low of 87 points (Minnesota) in 2016 to a high of 97 points (Calgary) in 2015. Last year, Nashville (94 points) was the second wild card in the Western Conference playoffs.
If the playoffs started today, the Knights would take on Minnesota (66 points), the second wild card, in the opening round. The Wild are 2-0 against the Knights.
“I think with Vegas they’re a good team. They’ve shown that,” Sharks forward Joe Pavelski said. “There’s a lot of talent out there, they’re a well-coached team and they seem to have found something right now.”
If the Knights take all 14 available points on the homestand — not out of the question since they’re 19-3-2 at T-Mobile Arena — they would be at 90 points with 21 games remaining.
Four teams have finished with 95 or more points and missed the postseason since the NHL implemented the three-point game starting with the 2005-06 season: The 2014-15 Boston Bruins and Los Angeles Kings, the 2010-11 Dallas Stars and the 2006-07 Colorado Avalanche.
“They’ve got an unwavering belief they’re going to find a way to get a puck in, and they’re getting a lot of breaks,” Washington coach Barry Trotz said of the Knights. “And they’re playing good. They’re a good hockey team. There’s no question about that.”
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Who: Golden Knights vs. Flyers
When: 5 p.m. Sunday
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)
1. The Boys Are Back. The Dropkick Murphys song (or maybe Thin Lizzy) is bound to be heard at T-Mobile Arena at some point, as the Golden Knights play their first home game since a 2-1 loss to the Islanders on Jan. 25. This is the start of a seven-game homestand.
2. King Biscuit Flower Hour. Keeping with the music theme, goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury will make his ninth start in the past 10 games for the Knights. Flyers goalie Brian Elliott was hurt Saturday at Arizona, leaving Michal Neuvirth to handle the second game of a back-to-back.
3. Selke matchup. Two of the top contenders for the Selke Award as the NHL’s best defensive forward — the Flyers’ Sean Couturier and William Karlsson of the Knights — are expected to go head-to-head. Couturier added scoring punch (27 goals) this season to go with his reputation as a shutdown center.
David Schoen Review-Journal