Golden Knights head into final stretch with goalie questions

LAS VEGAS (AP) — With four games left in the regular season and the Vegas Golden Knights locked in a down-to-the-wire playoff push, the last thing they need is another goalie controversy.

But after starting goaltender Robin Lehner missed practices Friday and Saturday, the team said he was taking maintenance days and coach Peter DeBoer denied any knowledge of his veteran netminder agreeing to season-ending surgery.

Lehner was pulled in favor of rookie Logan Thompson between the first and second periods during Wednesday’s 4-3 overtime victory over the Washington Capitals, a move DeBoer said was made to spark the team and create a different vibe.

Afterward, DeBoer said Lehner was “healthy, he’s fresh, he’s got a lot of energy and we need him at this point of the year.”

Multiple reports surfaced Friday that Lehner agreed to season-ending surgery due to a lower-body injury suffered March 8 in Philadelphia.

“Not to my knowledge, it was a maintenance day today. Nobody’s healthy 82 games in,” DeBoer said Friday. “In my conversations with Robin and everyone involved, there’s been nothing physically that would keep him from going out there and performing for us. There’s been no red flag.”

In a rare move regarding practice status, the team issued a statement on Lehner taking another maintenance day Saturday, and DeBoer opened his post-practice press conference by referring to the statement and saying he would not comment further.

Two years ago, DeBoer chose Lehner as the team’s starter in front of three-time Stanley Cup champion Marc-Andre Fleury. Last season the two alternated starts for much of the season before Fleury assumed the starting role, but he was traded to Chicago during the offseason to relieve $7 million in salary.

Now, at the most critical time of the season Vegas could go with rookie Logan Thompson for the final four games.

“I think it just depends on the day and the situation,” DeBoer said. “I think LT’s done a great job when he’s come in. I think every decision we’re making right now is with a Game 7 mentality. We’ve gotta win and we’re rolling out that lineup. We’re making those personnel decisions, we’re making those in-game decisions based on Game 7 mentality.

“I feel like if we have to make a decision in-game that is gonna give us a better chance to win and stay alive here, we’re gonna do that.”

In 15 appearances (13 starts) this season, Thompson is 9-5-0 with a 2.56 goals-against average and .920 save percentage. Since March 17, Thompson is 8-3-0 with a 2.25 goals-against average.

In one of the biggest decisions during Vegas’ critical run over the past few weeks, DeBoer started Thompson in favor of Lehner at first-place Calgary. Thompson was brilliant in stopping 35 of 36 shots in a 6-1 win.

“You look at other goalies in the league, it happens a lot,” Vegas forward Jonathan Marchessault said. “A guy that comes in, he’s hot and gives us a chance to win the hockey game. That’s how you build a career I think.”

After replacing Lehner against Washington in a tie game, Thompson came up with several big saves en route to the overtime win, even forcing high-scoring Alex Ovechkin to mishandle the puck on a third-period breakaway.

“He’s got that demeanor, he’s had a different path, he’s grinded a lot, he’s gotten his opportunity and he’s taken advantage of it,” Vegas defenseman Brayden McNabb said. “Logan’s been doing a great job, he’s been pretty consistent, and we have faith in him.”

The main goal now is to make the playoffs, something the Golden Knights have done every year since they entered the league in 2017. Vegas is currently two points behind Dallas for the final wild-card spot and five points behind Los Angeles for third place in the Pacific Division. After closing out the home portion of their schedule Sunday against the Sharks, the Golden Knights play at Dallas on Tuesday for what could decide the final playoff spot. Vegas holds the regulation-wins tiebreaker over the Stars.

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