Everything’s there for the taking.
Five teams, four spots – one left without a chair when the music stops playing.
“It’s going to be a battle,” said Heat head coach Cail MacLean as Stockton hits the home stretch and the playoff race reaches fever pitch. “But that’s what it’s all about. This is what you have to enjoy.”
The claustrophobic Pacific Division standings have points at a premium as runway comes to an end. After this past weekend, here’s where it stands:
Tucson is in first with 69 points through 54 games.
Colorado is in second with 66 points through 52 games.
Stockton is in third with 65 points through 52 games.
Ontario is in fourth with 64 points through 55 games.
San Diego is in fifth with 63 points through 53 games.
So, no hyperbole here – for the Pacific’s top five teams, the division title is there to be had. So is an early trip to the first tee.
Taking a peek at what’s lying ahead, every remaining game for the Heat is inside of the division, so the picture can change in a hurry. Six games are left to play against the sixth-place Bakersfield Condors (48 points) or seventh-place Barracuda (39 points), both clubs well behind the pace car for a playoff berth.
Among the contenders, the Heat still have four dates with Ontario, three games against San Diego, two tussles with Colorado, and will wrap up the regular season on April 10 against Tucson.
For a club that has stared down choppy waters and sailed through time and time again, the Heat will have to once again show their mettle. The remaining slate is steep but not impassable – Stockton owns a winning record on the year against the Gulls and Eagles and tight series with Ontario (3-4-1-0) Tucson (2-2-2-1).
After a tough weekend at home this past week with a pair of two-goal setbacks, Friday against San Diego and Saturday against the red-hot Iowa Wild, Stockton has a chance to right the ship against the Condors with a weekend home-and-home followed by a midweek contest against San Jose. The Heat enter this stretch with a combined record of 15-2-0-1 against the bottom two teams in the Pacific.
Stockton is past the final turn and into the home stretch.
It’s going to be vital to get a good jump out of the gate.
- Luke Philp pulled to a tie for the team lead with Byron Froese by netting his 18th goal of the season in Friday’s contest against San Diego.
- Eetu Tuulola potted his first-career shorthanded goal on Friday.
- The Heat enter the weak with the AHL’s top-ranked penalty-kill (87.7%) and second-ranked power play (25.4%).
- Stockton killed 12 of 14 penalties over the weekend set.
THEY SAID IT:
“Overall, it was disappointing to not get points in two games at home. We’ve got to find a way to get it done. I liked our effort on Saturday. I thought our effort Friday wasn’t good enough, not mentally focused enough.” – MacLean on the weekend
“Our guys have seen it’s tightened up. You can tell teams are hungry, they’re playing good hockey. We have been, too. This weekend wasn’t a good weekend for us points-wise but you saw last weekend we played some tight hockey with a more limited roster. You can see the teams are coming together. It’s great for our young guys and it’s great we have good leaders. We have to make sure we fire on all cylinders as we move forward.” – MacLean on his March outlook
“(A good start in Stockton’s next game, Friday) is going to be huge. Bakersfield is a tough opponent. They’re a fast team. We’ve got to make sure that we come out on the right foot. It’s that old cliché, you’ve got to go one shift at a time. We’ve got to make sure we do that. I thought we did it well (Saturday), but we had a lapse and as a result we found ourselves on the wrong end. We’ve just got to bear down and focus on playing the right way. If we do that I’m confident we’re going to get what we need.” – MacLean on moving forward
“Any time you get called up to the NHL it’s exciting. I had a lot of fun (in Calgary). (It’s been) a long road for myself, obviously, I’m not the youngest guy in this league anymore. It’s nice to get rewarded for what you think is hard work and some good play. It’s great. It’s a morale booster, just motivation for everyone here to not give up, keep working hard and you’ll get a chance one day.” – Buddy Robinson on his NHL recall to Calgary
“Every night is so important. You’re in first through fifth or sixth, everyone is so tight. It’s a four-point swing every game. We just need to do what we do best and we’ll be okay.” – Robinson on the playoff chase