Thursday, March 21, 2019 | 10:45 p.m.
There was a time earlier this season when the Golden Knights struggled to score. They weren’t winning, and were just hanging around the periphery of the playoff race enough to not fade away.
The Golden Knights are no longer on the outside of Stanley Cup contention knocking on the door. They appear ready to make another long and memorable postseason run.
The Golden Knights themselves may not look at it as such, but their 5-0 win over the Winnipeg Jets at T-Mobile Arena on Thursday, their 10th victory in 11 games, was a message to every team in what looks like a winnable Western Conference: You don’t want to face Vegas in the playoffs.
“The team game is so good right now, it’s making everybody’s job a little easier,” defenseman Nick Holden said. “Around the rink, practice, when you’re winning everything’s a lot more fun.”
It was hard to pick out who the best Golden Knight was Thursday. Malcolm Subban had his first career shutout with 20 saves. Reilly Smith and William Karlsson each had a pair of goals. Mark Stone didn’t score, but he did fight Blake Wheeler, which was fun.
And this wasn’t hockey’s version of the Washington Generals the Golden Knights beat down. This was Jets, the Central Division leader and last year’s conference runners-up.
Winnipeg boasts the conference’s best power-play, which was bested Thursday by a goalie who never had a shutout and a forward who has been struggling for playing time.
In the last meeting, the Jets took advantage of their power-play chances to run away with the game. Patrik Laine posted up in the left circle and whizzed two goals by the Vegas defense. This time the Jets didn’t score on a pair of power play chances.
The Golden Knights, however, did score when the Jets were on the power play. Paul Stastny sprung Tomas Nosek for a short-handed breakaway, and Nosek went bar-down on Laurent Brossoit to make it 3-0 six minutes into the second period. Vegas led 5-0 after two periods.
It was the first time in franchise history the Golden Knights scored five or more goals in three straight games. In their last 11 games, five of their 10 wins have come against teams currently in playoff position.
“The guys feel good about themselves,” coach Gerard Gallant said. “When the season started I knew we had a good hockey team. We’re a better team now, but I knew he had a hockey team.”
This has the look of a team bursting at the seams with confidence, the look of a team that knows, not thinks, it’s going to win when its players arrive at the rink.
This has looks of a team with plans on playing deep into the summer.