LAS VEGAS -- The Vegas Golden Knights will use their early exit from the Stanley Cup Playoffs as motivation heading into next season.
"As wrong as it went a couple of days ago, and as much as it stings now and as little sleep as all of us has gotten in the last couple nights … I genuinely believe in the long run that we'll be better from this," forward Max Pacioretty said Thursday. "We have to make it our goal, everyone's goal individually, is that, [No.] 1, make sure that this doesn't happen again, but make sure that we use this adversity and not take things for granted."
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The Golden Knights' second season ended Tuesday with a 5-4 overtime loss to the San Jose Sharks in Game 7 of the Western Conference First Round. Vegas reached the Stanley Cup Final last season, losing to the Washington Capitals in five games.
"We know what we have in here," center Paul Stastny said. "It's not a one-and-done team. What happened to us lights a spark under us. The older guys will be extra motivated, and the younger guys will see how important it is not to waste opportunities and know what it takes to win in this league."
The Golden Knights had a 3-1 series lead against the Sharks. San Jose won 5-2 in Game 5, then won Game 6 2-1 in the second overtime on a shorthanded goal by Tomas Hertl.
Vegas had a 3-0 lead in the third period of Game 7 when forward Cody Eakin received a five-minute major and game misconduct for cross-checking Sharks center Joe Pavelski. San Jose scored four goals in 4:01 on the resulting power play to take a 4-3 lead.
Jonathan Marchessault tied it 4-4 with 47 seconds left in the third period, but Barclay Goodrow's goal at 18:19 of overtime ended the series.
"It would've been better to lose 6-0 than to lose the way we did," Stastny said. "Especially with the way we played. The way we played Game 5, 6 and 7, I thought we deserved a lot better. It didn't happen like that, so I think that's the part that hurts a little bit."
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Stastny, Pacioretty and Mark Stone were Vegas' top acquisitions after last season and became the first line during the playoffs. The three combined for 31 points (13 goals, 18 assists) in the postseason, and Stone (12 points; six goals, six assists) and Pacioretty (11 points; five goals, six assists) were the top two playoff scorers in the NHL entering Thursday.
Stone said the three will benefit from playing a full season together. Stastny signed as a free agent July 1; Pacioretty (Sept. 9) and Stone (Feb. 25) each was acquired in a trade.
"We want to be a consistent group," Stone said. "I think that speaks for, not just our line, but it speaks for the 22 guys that'll be on the ice next year. We want to be a top team."
General manager George McPhee feels the Golden Knights have what it takes to remain competitive and that they can't dwell on how their season ended.
"We'll be back in the fall with a better team on the ice," he said. "You don't carry this stuff around. Don't engage in it, don't whine about it. That's not what this organization is about. You move on. We'll prepare all summer to make this team better next year and get back."
As for important free agents Vegas will have to address in the offseason, top-four defenseman Deryk Engelland, a longtime Las Vegas resident, said he would like to re-sign. Fourth-line forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare is one of the Golden Knights' top penalty-killers. Each is due to become an unrestricted free agent.
Center William Karlsson is a pending restricted free agent. He had 56 points (24 goals, 32 assists) this season after finishing with 78 points last season, including an NHL career-high 43 goals. He signed a one-year, $5.25 million contract Aug. 4, avoiding an arbitration hearing.
"Hopefully we can get a long-term deal going," Karlsson said. "Hopefully I'll stay here in the fall. I love it here. This is where I want to play."