DALLAS — Jack Eichel, Zach Whitecloud and Michael Amadio skated to the crease to console Logan Thompson. Defenseman Alex Pietrangelo put an arm around the goaltender as they skated toward the corner exit of the ice.
The Golden Knights, down to their third-string rookie goaltender, battled to the end in their quest to fan their flickering playoff hopes Tuesday against the Dallas Stars. The effort was there. But their dreams, while not dead, are slipping more and more out of reach.
The Knights are inches away from missing the NHL playoffs after a 3-2 shootout loss to the Stars in front of an announced crowd of 18,532 at American Airlines Center. The result clinched postseason berths for Los Angeles and Nashville, leaving one vacancy in the Western Conference.
The Stars have a four-point lead for the final wild-card spot with two games remaining. The Knights need to go 2-0-0 and hope Dallas goes 0-2-0 at home against Arizona and Anaheim to avoid missing the playoffs for the first time.
“Tough pill to swallow,” captain Mark Stone said. “Unfortunately, we’re going to need a lot of help.”
It was the second straight game the Knights came out with a strong performance and left one point short.
The Knights led 4-2 in the third period Sunday against San Jose before giving up two empty-net goals in the final 2:06 of regulation and losing in a shootout. On Tuesday, they took the lead twice but couldn’t hold on.
Left wing William Carrier gave the Knights a 1-0 lead with 49 seconds left in the first period for his career-high ninth goal and 20th point. Left wing Jason Robertson answered in the second for the Stars.
The Knights grabbed the lead again when center Chandler Stephenson extended his goal streak to four games with a power-play tally four seconds before the second intermission.
Left wing Max Pacioretty and center Jack Eichel worked to keep the puck alive in the final seconds of the period. Stone then deflected a feed from Eichel on net, and Stephenson cleaned up the loose puck. It was Stone’s first point in seven games after coming off long-term injured reserve April 12 with a back injury.
“Our guys left everything on the ice,” coach Pete DeBoer said. “We’ve got a lot of guys playing banged up.”
The second lead didn’t hold, either. Robertson scored again 3:13 into the third period to tie the game again. The teams then played tense, agonizing hockey for the remainder of regulation, the five minutes of overtime and six rounds of a shootout.
Thompson and goaltender Jake Oettinger each stopped the first six shooters they faced. Defenseman Miro Heiskanen, the 13th skater to go, finally drew first blood with a backhand move.
Center William Karlsson couldn’t answer for the Knights. His attempt bounced off Oettinger’s right pad and harmlessly away from the crease.
With that, the Knights will be eliminated from the playoff race if they don’t win either of their final two games in Chicago on Wednesday and St. Louis on Friday. The Stars need one point from their final two games to clinch.
“We still have a slim opportunity,”Stone said. “We just got to get ready, win tomorrow and hope like hell Anaheim and (Arizona) can do us a favor.”
Here’s three takeaways from the loss:
1. Thompson takes tough-luck loss
Thompson drew a crowd after the game because he gave the Knights everything he had.
The 25-year-old made 28 saves in his 15th NHL start and ninth on the road. Several were impressive, like when he stopped center Roope Hintz twice on a two-on-one in the second period and denied Hintz again on a breakaway in overtime.
Thompson then made six consecutive stops to begin his second shootout but didn’t get any support from teammates. He has saved eight of 10 shootout attempts in the past two games and is 0-2. The Knights’ shooters are 0-for-10.
“He did everything he could do for us tonight,” DeBoer said. “Even outside the shootout, I thought in the game he was excellent.”
2. Robertson shines
Dallas has a special player in Robertson.
The second-year forward’s two goals made him the 14th player in the NHL to hit 40 this season. Robertson is the fourth player in Stars history to hit that mark, behind Mike Modano, Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn.
The 22-year-old’s line with Hintz and right wing Joe Pavelski accounts for 104 of Dallas’ 226 goals (46 percent).
“He’s a scorer,” defenseman Brayden McNabb said. “He finds areas. That’s what goal scorers do.”
3. Playing short
The Knights weren’t officially a man short for Tuesday’s game, but they were in practice.
Right wing Keegan Kolesar’s lower-body injury left the team with 18 healthy skaters: 11 forwards and seven defensemen. Defenseman Dylan Coghlan dressed for the first time since April 6 but did not get a shift.
Carrier and right wing Michael Amadio rotated centers throughout the game instead. Stephenson was on the ice with them for Carrier’s goal.