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Surging Knights end road trip vs. Wild, Marc-Andre Fleury

It’s been a gradual build for the Golden Knights to get back to a top-three spot in the Pacific Division.

Considering how quickly they fell out of second place after the All-Star break, that’s an improvement.

The Knights moved their way back into the top three with a 4-1 win over the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday after the Los Angeles Kings lost to the Edmonton Oilers.

It took three weeks for the Knights — with seven wins in 10 games — to move four points behind the second-place Oilers, who have 92 points. The Vancouver Canucks lead the division with 98.

The Knights can gain more ground Saturday when they wrap up a four-game road trip against the Minnesota Wild and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who played four seasons in Las Vegas and is one of the team’s most popular players ever. He has split time in the net this season with Filip Gustavsson.

“We’re getting a little bit healthier, and we’re playing better hockey,” defenseman Brayden McNabb said. “We’re playing Knights hockey.”

An 82-game season can cause time to slow. The Knights went into Feb. 9 with back-to-back wins over Edmonton and the Arizona Coyotes.

First place was on the mind with the Knights trailing the Canucks by five points.

But the Knights never sustained that play. They accrued five points in the next 11 games and went into March 9 against Detroit as the second wild card — and six points ahead of four teams, including the Wild, from falling out of the playoff picture.

Coach Bruce Cassidy said the Knights were not “connected” as a group.

He likened it to supporting one another and supporting the puck as a unit of five. The Knights got away from that during the 2-8-1 run from Feb. 12 to March 7.

They’ve returned to form because of a great team defense and solid goaltending.

The Knights have allowed two goals or fewer in five of the past seven games, with Logan Thompson starting four of them.

Suddenly, the Knights have 88 points with nine games to play, a six-point cushion on the St. Louis Blues and nine points on the Wild in the wild-card race.

“Our game has been good the last three weeks,” Cassidy said. “We just had some hiccups at certain times. It’s good for the group all-around to go on the road and gut out some wins like this.”

Reinforcements could be on the way, too.

Defenseman Alex Pietrangelo returned to practice Friday in a full-contact capacity. He’s missed the past six games with an illness.

“He’s skating today, so that’s good news,” Cassidy said. “If everything goes well, we will anticipate he’ll go in (Saturday).”

Team defense has been strong, but someone has to come out of the lineup.

Nic Hague was a plus-5 in the six games he skated in Pietrangelo’s spot on the top pair with Noah Hanifin.

Zach Whitecloud, normally with Hague on the third pairing, has three assists in four games after spending the previous three as a healthy scratch.

Right now, veteran Ben Hutton is in line to keep his spot on the third pair and could rotate partners with Hague, Whitecloud and Alec Martinez.

Hutton has a goal and is a plus-4 in his past seven games.

As for the Wild, the Knights have a chance to deliver a serious blow to their playoff hopes.

Despite a 3-1 win over the San Jose Sharks on Thursday, the Wild are 2-1-2 in their past five. Those two extra-time losses were to the Blues.

Minnesota is eight points behind Los Angeles for the second wild card.

The game could be one of the final times Fleury faces his former team. The 2021 Vezina Trophy winner with the Knights is an unrestricted free agent after this season.

Fleury, 39, is the second-winningest goalie of all time (560) and could retire after the season.

The Knights host the Wild one more time — April 12 at T-Mobile Arena — for what could be a more proper send-off.

For now, the Knights are concerned with trying to earn seven of eight points on this road trip, which could define their season.

“I expect another tight game,” Cassidy said. “It’ll come down to a timely goal and a timely save.”

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

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