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The Golden Knights blew their chance to gain ground on the Los Angeles Kings in the Pacific Division, and their playoff hopes lessened severely with just five games left to play. Vegas, which has made the postseason in each of its first four seasons since entering the league, is three points back of Los Angeles in the division and four points back of Dallas and Nashville for a wild-card berth.
“We gotta win them all, I think that’s pretty simple, we gotta win ‘em all,” Vegas coach Peter DeBoer said. “It doesn’t get any more desperate than that. I would think that motivation would be the least of our problems right now.”
Vegas closes out the home portion of its schedule by hosting Washington on Wednesday and San Jose on Sunday before finishing its season with three road games.
In a rare win for the Devils — their 13th in their last 40 games — Andreas Johnsson and Jesper Boqvist also scored, while Andrew Hammond made 42 saves.
Hammond is playing with his third organization this season and made just his eighth NHL appearance of the season.
“It’s special,” Hammond said of earning his first win as a Devil. “It’s a lot of fun playing in this building. I think it’s an atmosphere that I if you kind of harness it the right way you can really feed off of. … I think both teams were trying to fight for every inch of the ice and I felt like I was a part of that too.”
The Devils closed their longest road trip of the season by going 3-1-1, including victories over a pair of desperate teams in Vegas and Dallas.
“They’re a good team,” New Jersey coach Lindy Ruff said. “And we knew at times they would have the edge and I thought we answered the call.”
Indeed, in more ways than one. The Devils stayed active on defense, with discipline in front of Hammond to also beat Vegas with blocked shots (24-16) and hits (41-26).
At times, New Jersey looked like the team jockeying for playoff position, with players standing rather than sitting on the bench, cheering exuberantly every time Hammond made a save.
“Played an awesome game,” Ruff said of Hammond. “He made a lot of great saves. He was there when we broke down, he was there in the early breakaways, he gave us a chance to settle into the game.”
Keegan Kolesar and Chandler Stephenson scored for Vegas and Robin Lehner stopped 25 shots.
Taking advantage of a Vegas turnover in its own zone, Devils center Michael McLeod fired a slap shot that Lehner stopped, but Bastian skated by at the right time to tap home the rebound and give New Jersey an early lead in the opening period.
The Golden Knights got the equalizer late in the second period from the unlikeliest of candidates, as Kolesar skated down the right side and sent the puck across the slot, then off New Jersey defenseman P.K. Subban’s skate and past Hammond.
Vegas’ offensive flame was quickly extinguished early in the third, when Johnsson grabbed a rebound on the right side of the goal and sent it top shelf over Lehner’s glove to put New Jersey back in front by a goal.
Boqvist essentially sealed things midway through the third, when he drove in and around Alex Pietrangelo and slid the puck into the net. It appeared Lehner never even saw the attempt, as he watched Boqvist skate into the corner for at least two seconds before realizing the puck was in the net.
With Lehner pulled for a man advantage, Stephenson made it a one-goal game with 1:14 left in the game, but Vegas couldn’t tie it.
The Golden Knights have now registered 83 shots on goal in their past two games but scored only twice.
“You have to give some credit to both goalies, but we also have to look in the mirror,” DeBoer said. “This has been a historical problem here, going dry at the wrong times. There’s no excuses this time of year, you gotta find a way to win and step up in the most important moments.
“The circumstances have put us in a situation here where we have no margin of error. That’s a tough way to play … we don’t have the luxury of being able to relax and play loose this time of year.”
NOTES: Vegas D Shea Theodore registered his 200th point with the Knights with an assist on Kolesar’s goal. … Knights F Jonathan Marchessault registered his 200th career assist with his helper on Stephenson’s goal.
New Jersey: Hosts Buffalo on Thursday.
Vegas: Hosts Washington on Wednesday.