Vegas Claims Pacific Division Crown with 3-1 win over Kraken
SEATTLE (AP) — After missing the playoffs for the first time in their short franchise history last year, the Vegas Golden Knights wanted to savor this Pacific Division title.
Not for long, though. The Golden Knights believe there's more to come in the postseason.
“I’m definitely proud of the group the way they handled that and came back this year, played a lot of good hockey,” Vegas defenseman Alec Martinez said. “But again, everything with a caveat, we haven’t won anything yet.”
Martinez broke a tie midway through the second period and the Golden Knights won their third Pacific Division title with a 3-1 victory over the Seattle Kraken in the regular-season finale Thursday night.
Vegas finished 51-22-9 with 111 points, tying the franchise record for victories and holding off the late surge from Edmonton to win the division title and clinch home-ice advantage in the Western Conference.
Vegas will face Winnipeg in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
“We won all we could win in terms of the regular season,” Vegas coach Bruce Cassidy said. “We got the division crown, which was I thought was well earned. Edmonton has been charging hard coming out of the break like us. All the teams were playing well around us. And then you get the conference, which is nice too.”
Martinez’s goal at 12:37 of the second period came during a delayed penalty against Seattle. Martinez swatted a rebound past Seattle goalie Philipp Grubauer for his third goal of the season and undoubtedly the most important.
Reilly Smith also scored for Vegas on what technically was its first shot of the game but didn’t touch his stick blade. Vince Dunn’s pass from behind the Seattle goal bounced off Smith’s skate and slipped past Grubauer. The goal came nearly 10 minutes into the first period.
Chandler Stephenson added an empty-net goal, deflecting the puck from his own zone with 38 seconds left.
“There’s still a lot of work to be done, but I don’t think that this should be understated and make sure that we at least take a day celebrate it,” Smith said.
Jaden Schwartz scored his 21st of the season for Seattle’s only goal on a night the Kraken dominated chances but couldn’t convert. Matty Beniers and Adam Larsson both hit posts and Daniel Sprong was stuffed on a breakaway by Laurent Brossoit, who made 31 saves.
Seattle (46-28-8, 100 points) entered the finale still with an outside shot of catching Los Angeles and finishing third in the Pacific Division. But the Kings held up their end beating Anaheim and the Kraken had to settle for the top wild card berth in the Western Conference.
“We played pretty damn hard. We had some good looks,” Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said. “I thought we could have created maybe a little bit more, mostly in the third period. I thought we worked really hard offensively. We generated enough.”
Seattle will have to wait until Friday night to learn its playoff opponent. The Kraken will face either Colorado or Dallas depending on the outcome of Friday’s game between the Avalanche and Predators in Nashville.
“Now the fun starts. This is why we play 82 games and this is why we grind throughout the year to give yourself an opportunity,” Schwartz said.
MR. 82 AGAIN
Phil Kessel appeared in his NHL-record 1,064th consecutive game and played in 82 games for the 11th time in his career.
Brayden McNabb and William Karlsson also appeared in all 82 games this season for Vegas. Ivan Barbashev also appeared in his 82nd game but the first 59 of those came with St. Louis.
Larsson was one of five players to appear in all 82 games for the Kraken and is the only one to play in every game in the first two seasons of the franchise. Will Borgen, Jordan Eberle, Brandon Tanev and Alex Wennberg also appeared in every game.
Jack Eichel and Shea Theodore both returned for Vegas. Eichel had missed two straight while Theodore had missed the previous seven.
Golden Knights: Will face Winnipeg in Game 1 next Tuesday. Vegas was 3-0-0 against the Jets this season.
Kraken: Seattle will play Game 1 at Dallas next Monday or at Colorado next Tuesday depending on Friday's result.