Golden Knights become first NHL team to clinch playoff spot in 2020-21

Golden Knights become first NHL team to clinch playoff spot in 2020-21

The Sharks gave them a good fight — sometimes literally — but the Vegas Golden Knights became the first team to clinch a playoff spot during the NHL’s truncated 2020-21 season.

Jonathan Marchessault finished the night with four points, while Marc-Andre Fleury earned career win 487 as the Golden Knights beat the Sharks 5-2. The Golden Knights won their eighth in a row to clinch that playoff spot.

Golden Knights first NHL team to clinch playoff spot after beating Sharks

In what was a physical game (particularly early on), the Sharks were able to stick with the Golden Knights at first. Just minutes in, Timo Meier gave San Jose a 1-0 lead, and Tomas Hertl‘s nice shot put the Sharks up 2-1 midway through the second period.

The Golden Knights just kept sending waves of pressure vs. the Sharks — that’s what they do, and that’s why they’ve clinched a playoff spot so early.

(That, and yes, the Avalanche have been on pause thanks to COVID.)

Eventually, the Golden Knights started to got to relatively unknown Sharks goalie Josef Korenar. Korenar managed to keep the game 1-1 through the first period despite Vegas generating a 19-8 shots on goal advantage, but the dam eventually broke.

Mark Stone continues to look dangerous as a net-front presence on the power play:

That Stone goal made it 2-2, and then Alex Tuch scored a late-second-period goal that kind of looked like it took place on the man advantage:

After becoming the first NHL team to clinch a playoff spot for 2020-21, the Golden Knights can at least ponder questions of rest vs. rust. (With two capable goalies in Marc-Andre Fleury and Robin Lehner, they don’t even need to strain the boundaries of credulity. Other teams might feel more like they’re throwing games away when opting for backups.)

Of course, the Golden Knights will also put a great emphasis on beating out the Avalanche for the West Division title.

West Division race update

After winning their eighth consecutive game, the Golden Knights clinched that playoff spot, and now the race for the top West Division spot looks like this.

Golden Knights: 33-11-2, 68 points in 46 games played
Avalanche: 30-9-4, 64 points in 43 GP
Wild: 29-13-3, 61 points in 45 GP

(Meanwhile, the Sharks couldn’t gain ground on the Coyotes and Blues in the West Division playoff race. Arizona lost to Minnesota, while the Blues were idle on Wednesday.)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.