The St. John's IceCaps continue their valiant pursuit of the final playoff spot in the North Division this weekend, with three games in three nights in what will be a season-defining seven-game road trip over two weeks for the depleted IceCaps roster.
There appears to be little relief coming from players returning from Montreal, and Darren Dietz recently received a second emergency recall to the NHL club just days after his previous one had expired.
Last week Sylvain Lefebvre's team managed to secure four of eight possible points, helping them inch ever so closer to the Portland Pirates and Rochester Americans, who are all fighting for the final playoff spot. A last-minute loss to the Hershey Bears on Sunday afternoon might prove to be very costly for the IceCaps.
The rankings for that last playoff spot look like this:
Utica Comets - Friday, March 18
Last time they met: February 26 (Utica 4 - St. John's 1)
This is the sixth and final meeting in the regular season between the two clubs, and Utica leads the season series three wins to two, although the Icecaps have managed to capture five out of a possible eight points so far.
The last game started poorly for the IceCaps when the puck took an unexpected bounce off the back boards and popped up in front of a surprised Zachary Fucale. The goaltender failed to control the puck as Mike Zalewski pushed it by him for the early lead; a deficit from which the IceCaps were never able to recover.
Bud Holloway scored the IceCaps only goal on the night on a beautiful snipe on the power play, but it wasn't enough to beat Brandon Prust, Chris Higgins, and the Utica Comets.
Syracuse Crunch - Saturday, March 19 and Sunday, March 20
Last time they met: February 27 (St. John's 5 - Syracuse 1)
The IceCaps have taken 11 out of 12 possible points in six previous meetings against the Crunch, leading the season series with four wins and an overtime loss. The IceCaps' dominance of the Crunch is good news for them because St. John's will need all the points they can get on this road trip, and having an opponent's number is certainly a good thing. But the Crunch will have the added benefit of the return of Jonathan Drouin to the lineup after a long self-imposed exile, awaiting a trade that never came.
The last time these two teams played, the IceCaps were victorious thanks to a three-point effort from captain Gabriel Dumont (one goal, two assists), the first goals of the season by Travis Brown and Alexandre Ranger, and a 29-save performance by Eddie Pasquale. The IceCaps will need a repeat performance if they hope to improve their changes for a post-season berth.