Greetings! We are almost a week into March and the playoff picture is starting to come into focus. Each matchup is crucial for playoff positioning this time of year. That said, let’s get to the previews.
Allen @ Missouri–Friday: This is the final time the two teams meet during the regular season. The Mavericks have won the season series, but this game will be a good measuring stick of where both teams are headed into the playoffs. Even though Missouri was the first team to clinch a spot in the 2014 President’s Cup Playoffs, there is still much work to be done, as the Mavericks have a 7-point lead over Rapid City in the race for the Governor’s Cup. Friend of MLHR, the Sin Bin, has an interesting article on if the Mavs are relying on Sebastian Thinel, Eric Castonguay and Mike Ramsay too much. Give it a read, here: http://missourimavericks.com/fanzone/blog/1198-sin-bin-blog-strength-at-the-top.html.
From the Allen perspective, this is all about continuing to build and fine-tune for the playoffs, while dealing with injuries. With backup goalie Mark Guggenberger gone, the onus in net clearly shifts to the shoulders of Bryan Pitton. It will be interesting to see how the injuries affect this team during the stretch run. One thing is for certain, the Americans will not relent in how their game is played–extremely physical with a crash the net mentality.
Rapid City @ Tulsa–Friday and Saturday: This is perhaps the best matchup on the board this weekend. Tulsa is on an incredible run right now, that has seen them win 9 of their last 10 games. Ben Gordon should be in the conversation for Most Valuable Player, with 26 points in his last 10 games and 78 points on the season (35G, 43A). To Shane Madolora, the puck is a beach ball right now, he is 8-0-0 with a 1.88 goals against average.
On the other side, Rapid City seems to be getting back into form after their post-Christmas slump where Tim Boron was hurt. In their last 5 games, the Rush are 3-2-0. Of concern for the Rush, is the fact that Konrad Reeder and Jesse Schultz have combined for 7 points in their last five games (1G, 6A combined.) The two lead the offensive attack for Rush with 48 goals, 89 assists (137 points,) this season. Next up is Winston Day Chief, who is 25 points behind. For the Rush to finish the season strong, the trio of Boron/Reeder/Schultz will need to get back into the form they had earlier in the season.
Sundogs @ Mallards–Friday and Saturday: This is the matchup of two teams that have hit the skids lately. Arizona is 3-4-3 in their last 10 games, while Quad City is 3-7-0 in their last 10. For the Mallards, the source of their skid could be in between the pipes. Thomas Heemskerk has lost six straight games since coming back to the team from Abbottsford in the American Hockey League.
“I’m really frustrated,” coach Terry Ruskowski told the Quad-City Times after their 5-2 loss to Missouri Wednesday night. “The guys I count on aren’t doing the job and I’m really frustrated. I look at their team and their big guns came up large today … big-time players step up in big-time games, tonight was a big-time game and nobody stepped up to be counted for.”
The Sundogs seem to be turning the corner with regard to the injury bug, having gotten Brandon Coccimiglio and David Rutherford back in the lineup. Kevin Baker, Johan Ryd and Shawn Limpright all have better than point-per-game efforts currently. The problem remains defense, with the Sundogs a collective +6 in their last 10 games.
Other Matchups: The Denver Cutthroats have made the long, arduous journey to southern Ontario to play the Brampton Beast, in a weekend three-game set that features teams locked in a fight for home-ice in the first round of the playoffs. At the start of play on Friday, the teams are in the 4th and 5th positions in the standings. The two teams have not played since November so it will be interesting to see how the teams have changed.
Finally, the Wichita Thunder and Rapid City Rush will conclude their season series Sunday evening in Wichita. The Thunder’s playoff hopes are hanging by a thin fingernails–down seven points to Arizona in the race for 8th.