Defending champs are in! Golden Knights grab a playoff spot

NHL

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — Jack Eichel, Nicolas Roy and Pavel Dorofeyev each had a goal and an assist, Chandler Stephenson had four assists and the Vegas Golden Knights beat the Minnesota Wild 7-2 Friday night to clinch a playoff berth for the sixth time in seven seasons.

Jonathan Marchessault, Tomas Hertl, William Karlsson and Keegan Kolesar also scored goals. Noah Hanifin added two assists for the Golden Knights and Logan Thompson had 25 saves.

The Golden Knights will get a chance to defend their Stanley Cup championship after their win combined with St. Louis’ 5-2 loss to Carolina. Vegas is the second wild card in the Western Conference, one point behind Los Angeles for third place in the Pacific Division.

“You don’t want to be or say that you were stressed, but we knew we had to win one game and we felt confident about that tonight,” Stephenson said.

Stephenson had four assists for the third time in his career and first time this season, reaching the 50-point mark for the third consecutive season.

Hertl’s goal was his first since being acquired from San Jose on March 8.

“It was just a great feeling,” Hertl said. “I’m more happy about being able to clinch the playoffs today, but I feel very good to score the first one in the building because it’s a lot of fun to play here.”

Marat Khusnutdinov and Ryan Hartman scored for the Wild. Marc-Andre Fleury had a rough night facing his former team, allowing all seven goals on 30 shots, the most he has given up since Dallas scored eight on him on Nov. 12. Still arguably the most popular player in the club’s short history, the crowd even chanted his name several times in the third period.

The Golden Knights scored three goals on special teams, including two on power plays for the third time in five games.

It was an overall festive night for Vegas. The fans, including San Francisco 49ers star running back Christian McCaffrey wearing an Eichel jersey, were ready to party as the Knights not only assured themselves of another playoff spot but snapped a three-game losing streak.

“It’s a resilient group,” Vegas coach Bruce Cassidy said. “I think the process of getting here had some ups and downs this year. … I think we were able to put past most of those (down) days and focus on what’s next. We’ve done a good job of that this year.”

The Wild, once in the running for the postseason, have lost five of seven games.

“We’ve got to be way better than that against any team,” Wild coach John Hynes said. “It doesn’t matter who you play, so we’ll have a good discussion tomorrow.”

The Knights scored goals on three of their first shots, two of them on special teams. Roy had his first career short-handed goal, and it was the second game in a row the Knights have scored down a man — the first time this season. Dorofeyev and Eichel each scored from the left circle, the latter a one-timer on a power play.

Both teams traded power-play goals in the second period. Minnesota’s Khusnutdinov scored his first career goal, and Marchessault answered with his 42nd of the second to pull to within one of Karlsson’s franchise single-season record.

The Knights poured it on in the third period, outscoring the Wild 3-1. After Kolesar’s goal, Fleury angrily swiped the puck out of the net.

This was a milestone night for three Wild players. Jonas Brodin appeared in his 800th career game, Matt Boldy in his 200th and Marco Rossi in his 100th. This was the first career game for Liam Ohgren.

UP NEXT

Wild: At San Jose on Saturday.

Golden Knights: Host Colorado on Sunday.

___

AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL

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