Updated April 27, 2022 - 10:06 pm
CHICAGO — The Golden Knights, ultimately, were the ones to beat themselves.
Their playoff fate didn’t come down to a game in Dallas. It wasn’t about the help they did or didn’t receive. The Knights were eliminated when right wing Michael Amadio’s backhand shootout attempt met goaltender Kevin Lankinen’s right pad Wednesday at United Center, sending them to a 4-3 loss against the Blackhawks.
The dropped point will keep them out of the postseason for the first time in the five-year history of the franchise. Even if Amadio’s aim was true and the Knights rallied to win, Dallas had the Western Conference’s final playoff berth locked up after a 4-3 overtime loss to Arizona.
The disappointment leaves the team searching for answers ahead of what could be an eventful offseason. The Knights were the preseason co-Stanley Cup favorites with Colorado. One team is atop the Western Conference standings. The other won’t play past Friday, which is why Wednesday could have ramifications for the Knights for years to come.
“A lot of decisions will be at this point kind of out of the players’ control, but you got to expect when a team underperforms the way we have this year, all bets are off,” left wing Max Pacioretty said. “We know we have what it takes in this room to win. There’s still no excuse for the position we’re in right now.”
Playing for the third time in four nights in three cities, the Knights fell behind 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2 to Chicago. They rallied each time with goals from Amadio, defenseman Alec Martinez and Pacioretty. Center Chandler Stephenson assisted on all three to move into a tie for the team scoring lead with left wing Jonathan Marchessault.
But the Knights never could take the lead. They then failed to score in a shootout for the third straight game. Their shooters went 0-for-17 in losses to San Jose, Dallas and Chicago. Rookie goaltender Logan Thompson went 14-for-17 and lost all three times.
“I don’t know how to explain that,” coach Pete DeBoer said. “I feel bad for our goalie. L.T. did a great job in the shootouts giving us a chance.”
The shootout struggles encapsulated the Knights’ season. Despite their lofty expectations, nothing came easy.
Injuries were a problem. The Knights will finish with approximately 500 man-games lost. No player will appear in 82 games. Pacioretty (38), Martinez (25) and captain Mark Stone (36) won’t even get halfway there. Goaltender Robin Lehner made 44 starts before it was announced he was having season-ending shoulder surgery. Backup Laurent Brossoit made 21 starts before going on long-term injured reserve.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Stephenson said. “You look at our group, and you wonder why we’re not in. I know that’s an excuse. It is what it is.”
The Knights also had holes in their game. Their goaltending was far less consistent than last season’s Jennings Trophy-winning tandem of Lehner and Marc-Andre Fleury. The penalty kill took a step back, and the power play failed to take one forward.
Only three players — Marchessault, Stephenson and right wing Evgenii Dadonov — have scored at least 20 goals. Only five — those three and defensemen Shea Theodore and Alex Pietrangelo — have reached 40 points.
Even when the Knights started to get healthy, they couldn’t pick up enough points to take the lead for a playoff spot. They’re 2-2-4 in their past eight games. They’re 15-15-5 dating to All-Star Weekend at T-Mobile Arena.
“I’m disappointed,” DeBoer said. “I’m at the front of the line for responsibility. There’s a lot of expectations on this team. It’s not an easy thing, and it doesn’t feel good for anybody right now.”
The failure to get into the postseason creates many questions for a team coming off back-to-back NHL semifinal appearances. The blockbuster acquisition of center Jack Eichel in November means the Knights are projected to be more than $1.3 million over next season’s salary-cap limit.
Moves will need to be made. The Knights have one season left to make good on owner Bill Foley’s “Cup in six” proclamation, and they will end their fifth season further away than they’ve ever been.
“It’s going to take some time to digest, because right up, until the end there, I never lost hope in thinking that we were going to make it,” Pacioretty said. “That final blow is a tough one to take.”