Updated May 8, 2021 - 10:31 pm
Golden Knights right wing Reilly Smith isn’t having his best offensive season, but he’s heating up at an opportune time.
Smith scored three times, including an empty-net goal, for his first NHL hat trick in the Knights’ 4-1 win over the St. Louis Blues on Saturday night at T-Mobile Arena.
The victory, the team’s second in two days against the Blues, clinched home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. It also moved the Knights into a tie with Carolina for the most points in the NHL standings with 80.
They have two games remaining and the Hurricanes one.
“We’re trying to get home-ice advantage, and finishing first in the league will guarantee us that every round, so we’re trying to push,” left wing William Carrier said. “The big thing is getting prepared for the playoffs. You don’t want to walk in there and have your game kind of lazy. So we’re just trying to dial in our game and win the last two here.”
Coach Pete DeBoer said before the series started Friday that he thought the Blues would try to send a message since the two sides are likely to meet in the playoffs. St. Louis is locked into fourth in the West Division after earning a point in its 4-3 overtime loss Friday.
The Knights ended up sending a message of their own: Good luck if that ends up happening. They swept the two games to improve to 6-1-1 against the Blues.
Smith was one of the Knights’ chief couriers with a goal in the first period and two in the third. He’s scored five times in the past three games after scoring nine goals in his first 48.
“I’ve been putting the puck on net all year, but it seems like it hasn’t been until the last five or six games where I’m starting to get some bounces my way,” said Smith, who noted it took him only 628 NHL games to score a hat trick. “Like my first goal, it wouldn’t have gone in if I tried it 99 other times. It’s nice to finally get some bounces, and it’s coming at the right time.”
Smith’s offensive contributions were more than enough during a game in which the Knights’ defense played well for large stretches.
The Knights allowed a season-low three shots on goal in the first period, which allowed the team to build a 2-0 lead with goals from Smith and center Chandler Stephenson.
Smith added another goal to start the third after Blues defenseman Colton Parayko cut the deficit to 2-1 with 36.3 seconds remaining in the second. Smith’s empty-net goal with 49 seconds left sealed the win. The announced crowd of 7,567 did its part by throwing a few hats on the ice.
“We need him to heat up, and it’s the right time of year to be heating up,” DeBoer said. “He stuck with it, and pucks are starting to go in, and that’s a good sign heading to the playoffs.”
The defensive effort meant Marc-Andre Fleury didn’t need to sweat much throughout the first two periods to earn his eighth straight victory. He did make 13 saves in the third period. He hasn’t allowed more than two goals since April 7.
One of the few negatives for the Knights was that rookie forward Peyton Krebs was hit in the face with a shot in the second period and did not return.
That still didn’t do much to dampen the Knights’ spirits as they improved to 8-0-1 in the second game of a back-to-back and inched closer to the West Division title and Presidents’ Trophy.
“I attribute it to depth,” DeBoer said of the team’s record in back-to-backs. “It starts in net. The fact we can roll out a fresh goalie has been critical to us getting those points.”