NHL playoff watch: X factors, predictions for Stars-Golden Knights

NHL News

There are 13 games on the NHL schedule tonight, including five being waged between teams that are currently in playoff position. But perhaps the most consequential matchup of the bunch features the Dallas Stars hosting the Vegas Golden Knights (8:30 ET, streaming live on ESPN+ for out-of-market customers).

The Knights are chasing the Stars and the Nashville Predators in the Western wild-card race. Heading into tonight, the Predators hold the first wild card (94 points, 35 regulation wins), and the Stars hold the second (93 points, 30 regulation wins). The Knights are at 90 points and 33 regulation wins, so a loss in regulation tonight would be devastating to their postseason chances.

To help get you ready for the game, we gathered our panel to break down X factors for the matchup, along with their predictions on how it will play out:


Which player will be the biggest X factor in deciding this game?

Victoria Matiash, NHL analyst: If ice-cold Jack Eichel brings his best self to the American Airlines Center and scores one, if not a pair, Vegas should fly out a single point behind the second wild-card team in the West. Especially if the forward pairing of Max Pacioretty and Chandler Stephenson contribute as has been that duo’s recent habit. Otherwise, I don’t adore the Golden Knights’ chances.

Arda Ocal, NHL host: Logan Thompson is my pick, because it will take a great effort from any Vegas goalie to get it done in this crucial game.

Kristen Shilton, NHL reporter: Dallas’ X factor will be veteran center Joe Pavelski. The Stars sit in the lower half of the league in scoring, averaging fewer than three goals per game. When it’s a team-wide battle for goals, your superstars have to be just that when big moments arrive. In this career year of his, all eyes will be on Pavelski to deliver.

Vegas’ X factor is Thompson. With how the Golden Knights’ best players have performed in front of him lately — looking at you, Alex Pietrangelo, Jack Eichel and others — Vegas’ fate will hinge on how well Thompson can perform.

Greg Wyshynski, NHL reporter: For the Stars, it’s Jason Robertson. The 22-year-old winger has earned quiet but steady MVP buzz as an energizing force in the Dallas lineup. The Stars are 32-11-4 when he scores at least a point. His line with Pavelski and Roope Hintz is one of the best in the NHL and arguably the best thing about the Stars this season. He has 38 goals. What a way to break 40 this would be for Robertson.

For the Golden Knights, it’s Pacioretty. He has points in three straight games and has devoured the Stars in his time with the Knights: nine points in six games, with eight coming at even strength. He has five goals against Dallas with Vegas. There might be more vital players on the ice for the Knights, but Pacioretty could be a game-breaker.


What’s your final-score prediction?

Matiash: 4-2, Vegas. The more desperate team prolongs the fight on this night.

Ocal: 3-1, Vegas. Agreed that it needs this one more, and will come out on fire.

Shilton: Knowing Vegas, it’ll be a high-scoring night. Knowing Dallas, it’ll be more of a slugfest for offense. Let’s meet in the middle: 4-3 Stars.

Wyshynski: Vegas wins this game in regulation, 3-1. Dallas defeats Arizona and Anaheim in its last two games, and the Los Angeles Kings and Nashville Predators both earn enough points to keep the Golden Knights out of the playoffs.

The Knights’ failure to qualify won’t be because they couldn’t beat Dallas. It’ll be because they took one point out of two home games against the New Jersey Devils and San Jose Sharks, which was inexcusable — especially considering what happened with the latter.


On a scale of 1 to 10, how devastating would it be for Vegas to miss the playoffs

Matiash: 8.5. The organization can cite injuries as somewhat of an excuse. Max Pacioretty, Mark Stone (still not right), Alec Martinez, Reilly Smith (still out), Robin Lehner and others have lost significant time to different physical issues. But every team has to deal with injuries to prominent players. And this club was considered a playoff shoo-in ahead of the season, if not a top Stanley Cup contender — and that’s even before they traded for Eichel. So yeah, quite devastating.

Ocal: 11. The optics would certainly be rough, given all the moves they’ve been making. It was bad enough that people have been citing the Knights’ and Sabres’ respective records since Eichel suited up for his new team. Vegas went all-in this season; a bust would hurt badly.

Shilton: 10. Vegas swung for the fences in trading for Eichel. Management has stacked this roster with talent. They’ve finessed every inch of fine print to circumvent salary-cap constraints. To have all that effort and excellence add up to … nothing? Disastrous.

Wyshynski: 7. I’m a little lower on the panic scale for the Knights due to some mitigating circumstances — although many of them were of their own creation. They were slammed by injuries at the wrong time, although their cap mismanagement only exacerbated their problems when they had to sit some players to create room for others. They didn’t have a full season of Eichel. Their goaltending went from second in the NHL with Marc-Andre Fleury and Robin Lehner to 21st in the NHL with Lehner limited to 44 games, and then missing the final games of the season because of shoulder surgery and a knee injury.

Meanwhile, Fleury went 8-1-0 following his trade to the Minnesota Wild at the deadline.

I think anything higher than a 7 means wholesale changes: firing GM Kelly McCrimmon or trading a chunk of the roster for Carey Price, as was suggested here. I think a 7 means that they don’t do anything more dramatic than firing coach Pete DeBoer, which would still be dramatic, but not as seismic a change as others might be expecting. This is still a championship-caliber team that just needs some recalibrating in the offseason.


And now, let’s check in on all the playoff races — along with the teams jockeying for position in the 2022 NHL draft lottery.

Note: Playoff chances are via FiveThirtyEight. Tragic numbers are courtesy of Damian Echevarrieta of the NHL.

Jump ahead:
Current playoff matchups
Today’s games
Last night’s scores
Expanded standings
Race for No. 1 pick

Current playoff matchups

Eastern Conference

A1 Florida Panthers vs. WC2 Washington Capitals
A2 Toronto Maple Leafs vs. A3 Tampa Bay Lightning
M1 Carolina Hurricanes vs. WC1 Boston Bruins
M2 New York Rangers vs. M3 Pittsburgh Penguins

Western Conference

C1 Colorado Avalanche vs. WC2 Dallas Stars
C2 Minnesota Wild vs. C3 St. Louis Blues
P1 Calgary Flames vs. WC1 Nashville Predators
P2 Edmonton Oilers vs. P3 Los Angeles Kings


Today’s games

Note: All times Eastern. All out-of-market games available to stream live on ESPN+.

Florida Panthers at Boston Bruins, 7 p.m.
New Jersey Devils at Ottawa Senators, 7 p.m.
Columbus Blue Jackets at Tampa Bay Lightning, 7 p.m.
Carolina Hurricanes at New York Rangers, 7 p.m.
Edmonton Oilers at Pittsburgh Penguins, 7 p.m. (ESPN)
New York Islanders at Washington Capitals, 7 p.m.
Detroit Red Wings at Toronto Maple Leafs, 7 p.m.
Calgary Flames at Nashville Predators, 8 p.m.
Arizona Coyotes at Minnesota Wild, 8 p.m.
Vegas Golden Knights at Dallas Stars, 8:30 p.m.
St. Louis Blues at Colorado Avalanche, 9:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Seattle Kraken at Vancouver Canucks, 10 p.m.
Anaheim Ducks at San Jose Sharks, 10:30 p.m.


Last night’s scoreboard

Watch In the Crease on ESPN+ for highlights from every game.

Chicago Blackhawks 3, Philadelphia Flyers 1


Expanded standings

Note: x = clinched playoff spot; y = clinched division title; z = clinched best conference record; e = eliminated

Atlantic Division

Points: 120
Regulation wins: 41
Playoff position: A1
Games left: 3
Next game: @ BOS (Tuesday)
Playoff chances: 100%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 111
Regulation wins: 43
Playoff position: A2
Games left: 2
Next game: vs. DET (Tuesday)
Playoff chances: 100%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 106
Regulation wins: 37
Playoff position: A3
Games left: 3
Next game: vs. CBJ (Tuesday)
Playoff chances: 100%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 103
Regulation wins: 38
Playoff position: WC1
Games left: 3
Next game: vs. FLA (Tuesday)
Playoff chances: 100%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 73
Regulation wins: 25
Playoff position: N/A
Games left: 2
Next game: @ BOS (Thursday)
Playoff chances: 0%
Tragic number: E

Points: 72
Regulation wins: 20
Playoff position: N/A
Games left: 2
Next game: @ TOR (Tuesday)
Playoff chances: 0%
Tragic number: E

Points: 69
Regulation wins: 25
Playoff position: N/A
Games left: 3
Next game: vs. NJ (Tuesday)
Playoff chances: 0%
Tragic number: E

Points: 51
Regulation wins: 14
Playoff position: N/A
Games left: 2
Next game: @ NYR (Wednesday)
Playoff chances: 0%
Tragic number: E


Metropolitan Division

Points: 112
Regulation wins: 45
Playoff position: M1
Games left: 2
Next game: @ NYR (Tuesday)
Playoff chances: 100%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 108
Regulation wins: 43
Playoff position: M2
Games left: 3
Next game: vs. CAR (Tuesday)
Playoff chances: 100%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 101
Regulation wins: 36
Playoff position: M3
Games left: 2
Next game: vs. EDM (Tuesday)
Playoff chances: 100%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 100
Regulation wins: 35
Playoff position: WC2
Games left: 3
Next game: vs. NYI (Tuesday)
Playoff chances: 100%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 80
Regulation wins: 32
Playoff position: N/A
Games left: 3
Next game: @ WSH (Tuesday)
Playoff chances: 0%
Tragic number: E

Points: 79
Regulation wins: 25
Playoff position: N/A
Games left: 3
Next game: @ TB (Tuesday)
Playoff chances: 0%
Tragic number: E

Points: 62
Regulation wins: 19
Playoff position: N/A
Games left: 3
Next game: @ OTT (Tuesday)
Playoff chances: 0%
Tragic number: E

Points: 61
Regulation wins: 20
Playoff position: N/A
Games left: 2
Next game: @ WPG (Wednesday)
Playoff chances: 0%
Tragic number: E


Central Division

Points: 116
Regulation wins: 45
Playoff position: C1
Games left: 3
Next game: vs. STL (Tuesday)
Playoff chances: 100%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 109
Regulation wins: 36
Playoff position: C2
Games left: 3
Next game: vs. ARI (Tuesday)
Playoff chances: 100%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 109
Regulation wins: 43
Playoff position: C3
Games left: 2
Next game: @ COL (Tuesday)
Playoff chances: 100%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 94
Regulation wins: 35
Playoff position: WC1
Games left: 3
Next game: vs. CGY (Tuesday)
Playoff chances: 98%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 93
Regulation wins: 30
Playoff position: WC2
Games left: 3
Next game: vs. VGK (Tuesday)
Playoff chances: 91%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 83
Regulation wins: 29
Playoff position: N/A
Games left: 3
Next game: vs. PHI (Wednesday)
Playoff chances: 0%
Tragic number: E

Points: 65
Regulation wins: 16
Playoff position: N/A
Games left: 2
Next game: vs. VGK (Wednesday)
Playoff chances: 0%
Tragic number: E

Points: 51
Regulation wins: 16
Playoff position: N/A
Games left: 3
Next game: @ MIN (Tuesday)
Playoff chances: 0%
Tragic number: E


Pacific Division

Points: 108
Regulation wins: 44
Playoff position: P1
Games left: 3
Next game: @ NSH (Tuesday)
Playoff chances: 100%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 98
Regulation wins: 37
Playoff position: P2
Games left: 3
Next game: @ PIT (Tuesday)
Playoff chances: 100%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 96
Regulation wins: 34
Playoff position: P3
Games left: 2
Next game: @ SEA (Wednesday)
Playoff chances: >99%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 90
Regulation wins: 33
Playoff position: N/A
Games left: 3
Next game: @ DAL (Tuesday)
Playoff chances: 12%
Tragic number: 4

Points: 87
Regulation wins: 31
Playoff position: N/A
Games left: 3
Next game: vs. SEA (Tuesday)
Playoff chances: 1%
Tragic number: 1

Points: 76
Regulation wins: 22
Playoff position: N/A
Games left: 3
Next game: vs. ANA (Tuesday)
Playoff chances: 0%
Tragic number: E

Points: 74
Regulation wins: 21
Playoff position: N/A
Games left: 2
Next game: @ SJ (Tuesday)
Playoff chances: 0%
Tragic number: E

Points: 58
Regulation wins: 22
Playoff position: N/A
Games left: 4
Next game: @ VAN (Tuesday)
Playoff chances: 0%
Tragic number: E


Race for the No. 1 pick

The NHL uses a draft lottery to determine the order at the top of the first round, so the team that finishes in last place is not guaranteed the No. 1 selection. As of 2021, a team can move up a maximum of 10 spots if it wins the lottery, so only 11 teams are eligible for the draw for the No. 1 pick. Full details on the process can be found here. The 2022 draft lottery will be held on May 10.

Points: 51
Regulation wins: 14

Points: 51
Regulation wins: 16

Points: 58
Regulation wins: 22

Points: 61
Regulation wins: 20

Points: 62
Regulation wins: 19

Points: 65
Regulation wins: 16

Points: 69
Regulation wins: 25

Points: 72
Regulation wins: 20

Points: 73
Regulation wins: 25

Points: 74
Regulation wins: 21

Points: 76
Regulation wins: 22

Points: 79
Regulation wins: 25

Points: 80
Regulation wins: 32

Points: 83
Regulation wins: 29

Points: 87
Regulation wins: 31

Points: 90
Regulation wins: 33

Notes on conditionally traded picks impacting the top 16:

  • Columbus will receive Chicago’s first-round pick if Chicago does not win either of the two draws in the 2022 draft lottery. Otherwise, the pick defers to 2023.

  • Buffalo will receive Vegas’ first-round pick if it is outside the top 10 selections. Otherwise, the pick defers to 2023.

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