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Golden Knights fall short in bid to clinch division title

Updated May 10, 2021 - 10:27 pm

The Golden Knights dug to the bottom of their emotional well Monday, and when that was gone, they used up every bit that was stored in reserve.

They battled hard in all three zones, stifled Colorado’s offense for long stretches and matched the Avalanche physically for 60 minutes.

And it still wasn’t enough.

The short-handed Knights ran out of gas before the finish line and lost 2-1 before an announced crowd of 7,567 at T-Mobile Arena.

“I’m just really proud of our group. They battled their ass off,” coach Pete DeBoer said. “Unfortunately they didn’t get the just reward for what they put into it, but that’s hockey.”

Colorado’s J.T. Compher scored the go-ahead goal with 8:27 remaining as the Knights (39-14-2, 80 points) missed a chance to clinch the West Division title and Presidents’ Trophy in their home finale.

The Knights finish the regular season Wednesday at San Jose and must hope Colorado (37-13-4, 78 points) drops points in its final two games against Los Angeles in order to claim the No. 1 seed.

If the Knights finish second in the division, they will meet Minnesota in the first round of the playoffs. The NHL has not announced when the postseason will begin.

“It would have been nice to get that win and kind of reflect on the season knowing the standings for us were set,” captain Mark Stone said. “But at the same time, this group doesn’t sit back. We’ll be ready to play on Wednesday. We’ll get our rest and be ready to go.”

The Knights iced a lineup with 15 skaters and two goaltenders in the most important game of the season because of injuries and salary cap constraints but nearly doubled Colorado in shots on goal (37-21).

Leading goal scorer Max Pacioretty missed his fifth straight game, and defenseman Alec Martinez was scratched along with Tomas Nosek and Peyton Krebs, who underwent surgery for a fractured jaw.

DeBoer stuck with his goalie rotation and handed Robin Lehner the start. He finished with 19 saves and looked steadier than in his previous two starts but couldn’t prevent Compher’s winner.

The Knights appeared to get caught out of position after a line change, and Colorado capitalized on the extra room.

Rookie Alex Newhook carried the puck down the right wing and centered for Compher at the top of the crease for his seventh goal.

Colorado goalie Philipp Grubauer finished with 36 stops, including several from point-blank range, to snap the Knights’ seven-game home winning streak.

“You’ve got to take a step back sometimes,” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “We’re disappointed in the result, but you look at the effort and playing short-handed, you have to be real proud sitting in the locker room. It’s not an easy game, especially this time of year, to play short like that.”

The Avalanche welcomed back star center Nathan MacKinnon after a two-game absence, and both teams pushed the pace in an action-packed first period.

Pietrangelo was aggressive early and overcame a bumpy beginning to put the Knights ahead at 8:11 of the first period.

Grubauer kicked out Nic Hague’s drive from the point, but the puck went straight to Pietrangelo in the right circle, and he fired in his sixth goal.

The Knights nearly took a two-goal lead on the ensuing shift, as Colorado’s forecheckers were caught in deep, allowing Alex Tuch and William Carrier to break away from the pack.

They executed a perfect passing play on the odd-man rush to leave Grubauer stranded, only for Tuch to fire wide with an open net in front of him.

That miss haunted the Knights, as the Avalanche tied the score on one of their four shots on goal in the second period.

Andre Burakovsky was given room in the slot after he entered the zone and fired a shot that beat Lehner for his 18th goal at 7:04.

“We did a really good job limiting their rush,” Stone said. “We swarmed them in the d-zone and frustrated them. At the end of the day, we just didn’t capitalize on some of our chances. We had tons of looks. We’ll probably, when we look at video, be trying to find ways to get second chances. But we had some great chances.”

Contact David Schoen at dschoen@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5203. Follow @DavidSchoenLVRJ on Twitter.

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