April 11, 2012 10:35 AM
Though it did wonders to keep them afloat, the Checkers’ 3-0 win in Rockford on Tuesday hasn’t changed what they need to do to ensure their spot in the postseason.
Though they still control their own destiny, nothing less than wins in each of their last three games will guarantee that they make the Calder Cup Playoffs. Should they drop even one point and finish 2-0-1, they would need help from around the league.
With there still not being much margin for error, that only underscores the position the team would’ve been in had they lost on Tuesday and suffered a further dent to their confidence on the heels of last week’s four-game losing streak.
“It’s huge on both fronts,” said coach Jeff Daniels. “We knew we had to get four wins to get to the playoffs, and getting that first one under our belt was a good start. There’s also the aspect of just having guys feel good about themselves.
“There’s a lot more chatter in the locker room and guys are looser on the bus. That’s what you want to see. You don’t want guys to be too uptight.”
Though the Checkers currently sit in 11th place and are the lowest-ranked team among the seven squads realistically vying for the last four playoff spots in the Western Conference, they are just one point back from a group of five teams tied with 82 points (spots six through 10). Additionally, a game in hand gives them a higher potential point total than three teams in that group, which would be good enough to qualify.
The final portion of the schedule will be no easy task, as the Checkers face a three-games-in-three-days set beginning Friday. Two of those games are against teams in the aforementioned group of seven, including Friday’s match-up in Peoria (8th) and Sunday’s finale in Milwaukee (6th). In between, they return to Rockford for a rematch against the IceHogs (13th), who suffered elimination over the weekend.
In 15 previous three-in-three clusters that the team has endured over its two seasons in Charlotte, the Checkers have never before won all three games. Their best result is 2-0-1, which they accomplished three times last season while playing at least one of the games at home.
Faced with the possibility of needing to sweep this upcoming set, Daniels said his team is taking one challenge at a time.
“We’re just focusing on Friday, because it’s a very big game for both teams,” he said. “We can’t look ahead.”
Helping the Checkers cause is that they won’t be alone, with three of the six other teams in the Western race – Houston, Milwaukee and San Antonio, playing similar schedules. Like the Checkers, Milwaukee also faces Saturday-night travel before Sunday’s meeting.
Should the Checkers qualify for the playoffs, it’s very likely that they will play the first two games of their best-of-five series at the PNC Center in Raleigh. The only way they could instead earn home-ice advantage and play Games 3, 4 and 5 at Time Warner Cable in Charlotte would be to capture the Midwest Division title.
For that to happen, they would need to win each of their last three games, Chicago would need to lose each of its last three games in regulation, and Milwaukee would need to take no more than four points from its last three.
Playing a home game away from home would be a unique scenario, but it’s not one the Checkers have reflected upon as of yet.
“We haven’t even talked about it, because if we don’t win the next three it might not matter,” said Daniels.
There will not be any changes to the standings prior to Friday’s game, as no team in the Western Conference plays on Wednesday or Thursday. All 30 AHL teams are in action Friday, with 20 of those clubs beginning three-in-three sets.