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3 takeaways: Knights look to playoffs after dropping finale to Ducks

Updated April 18, 2024 - 11:19 pm

The Golden Knights were in control of their own destiny, but couldn’t deliver.

After a wild turn of events, they’re off to Dallas.

The Knights ended the regular season with a 4-1 loss to the Anaheim Ducks at T-Mobile Arena on Thursday, and will begin their Stanley Cup title defense as the second wild card in the Western Conference.

The Los Angeles Kings squandered a 3-1 lead in the third period, but rallied to tie it with less than two minutes remaining and won 5-4 in overtime.

The Kings’ earning a point means the Knights will open the first round against the Dallas Stars in a rematch of last season’s Western Conference Final that the Knights won in six games.

Game 1 is 6:30 p.m. Monday in Dallas.

Center Jack Eichel scored the lone goal Thursday, and the Knights (45-29-8) finished the season with 98 points. Goaltender Adin Hill made 19 saves in the loss.

“We’re in the playoffs. That was the goal at the beginning of the season,” Eichel said. “Every team that’s left standing is a good hockey team. There’s no easy path to winning, and we understand that.”

It was the goaltender on the other side who made the difference.

Anaheim goalie Lukas Dostal made 32 saves to help the Ducks take three out of four in the season series against the Knights. Ducks forward Frank Vatrano scored a hat trick, and defenseman Jackson Lacombe broke a 1-1 tie 51 seconds into the third period.

“Credit to their goaltender,” coach Bruce Cassidy said. “He made some saves.”

Vatrano opened the scoring 4:25 into the second period, but Eichel tied it with his 31st goal of the season on the power play at 18:47.

The Ducks, with the third-fewest points in the Western Conference, were a young team playing for pride.

The Knights were more focused on fine-tuning their game heading into the playoffs. They just ran into a great performance from Anaheim’s potential goalie of the future.

“We play every game to win,” Cassidy said. “We’re always going to look at things as to why we didn’t.”

Here are three takeaways from the loss:

1. Hill’s struggles continue

In what was his final audition to possibly be the Game 1 starter in net, Hill was doomed by the third period once again.

Hill dropped to 5-10-0 in his last 16 appearances — in one start he was pulled after giving up three goals in the first period — and has given up three goals or more in 14 of his last 16 appearances.

Coach Bruce Cassidy hasn’t committed to a playoff starter, but recent stretches of play would indicate Logan Thompson has the edge right now.

Hill was a big reason why the Knights won the Stanley Cup last season, but he has not looked comfortable since coming back from the All-Star break.

That’s not to say Hill won’t have an opportunity to earn the starter’s crease back, but the timing is not on his side.

2. Marchessault stays at 42

It wasn’t for a lack of trying. Jonathan Marchessault really tried to tie the Knights’ single-season goal record.

The right wing had seven shots on goal, but none of them could beat Dostal. Marchessault ends the season with a career-high 42 goals and 69 points.

Center William Karlsson’s record of 43, set in the Knights’ inaugural season, stays for another year.

It was still a memorable season for Marchessault, the reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner, in a contract year. What that means for his future is uncertain.

3. Knights getting healthy

Healthy bodies are trickling back on the ice with the postseason around the corner.

Left wing William Carrier was a non-contact participant at morning skate and could be nearing a return from an upper-body injury. He has not played since March 25.

Captain Mark Stone also continues to skate in a non-contact role as he continues recovery from a lacerated spleen, and could be an option for Game 1.

Contact Danny Webster at dwebster@reviewjournal.com. Follow @DannyWebster21 on X.

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