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Knights’ new center felt he ‘could be better’ in playoffs

The Golden Knights’ first-round series against the Dallas Stars was Tomas Hertl’s first taste of playoff hockey in five years.

Playing in that atmosphere came with the highs of chasing a championship. It also came with the lows of coming up short.

It’s something Hertl experienced five times earlier with the San Jose Sharks.

“I almost forgot how much it sucks to lose in the playoffs,” Hertl said.

Hertl, 30, was thrown right into the fire after joining the Knights right before the NHL’s trade deadline March 8.

He didn’t play a game with his new team until April 8 while recovering from a left knee injury he underwent in February. That means he made just six regular-season appearances until the stakes increased.

It wasn’t enough time for him to find a home in the lineup. He bounced between groups, often at left wing but sometimes at center.

Hertl finished with just one goal against the Stars — a power-play tally in Game 1 — and finished minus-5 at five-on-five.

“For the playoffs, definitely felt like I could be better,” Hertl said. “I don’t think it was my game and what I can bring to the team. I know I can help way more than I did in the playoffs.”

Hertl put a lot of pressure on himself despite the fact he had little experience with his teammates and was coming off an injury.

He did perform well in the regular season with four points in six games. He also believed he started to find his footing in Games 6 and 7 when he was moved to first-line left wing with center Jack Eichel and right wing Jonathan Marchessault.

The Knights outshot the Stars 25-13 and had a 19-13 edge in scoring chances when the trio skated together.

“I was kind of more settled. Even my game was better. We had some good chances and we could score a little more,” Hertl said. “But still, I should be that player that can play with anybody in this league after a long time. I just couldn’t find my 100 percent game.”

Hertl can play wing, but it’s not his best position.

The Knights took on the remaining six years of his contract and a $6.75 million annual cap hit at the deadline because they believe he can be an impactful center. The next step is finding the right guys for Hertl, who is strong in front of the net and can make plays below the goal line, to play with.

“We need to surround him with complementary guys. He can play on the rush, but that’s more Jack’s game and (center William Karlsson’s). We want to build a line that complements his skill,” Cassidy said. “We think we have those guys in the room, but to tell you right now, I don’t think it’s accurate to say he’s going to play center with this guy at his right wing or left wing.”

Hertl has endured long offseasons the past four years with the Sharks. This one is different. He’s on a championship contender and can spend the summer further acclimating to his new team.

The Knights hope that with the extra time to adjust, he won’t have to experience too much losing in the playoffs next year.

“When you don’t make the playoffs and you know months ago you’re just getting ready for the last game and you go play for the (IIHF World Championships) or get ready for the summer, the moment you lose and you’re done, it hurts and it sucks with the team we had,” Hertl said. “It’ll still be in my head for a while.”

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

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