Less than 20 minutes after watching his team dispatch of the Rockford IceHogs, Kevin Constantine kind of hinted that either the IceHogs or the Aeros would make the playoffs ... probably not both.
To be sure, he did not say that directly, but when asked about the importance of taking the most points in this four-game mid-season series, he answered with this:
"Both teams have been dead even for about two weeks in the standings. Always hovering one, two, three, four games over five hundred. Somewhere in that range. They’re both good teams. They both might make the playoffs, but maybe only one of the two teams will make the playoffs of the two. So it’s kind of just a mini-playoff series."
Talking about the playoffs, at least that specifically, is usually not something a head coach will bring up in early January. He kind of left it open-ended, but I kind of laughed when I realized that he was thinking the same thing I was. The West division is as close now as it has been since the second week of the season. The Stars lost its lead on the division to Milwaukee last night and only nine points separate first place from last place. It is quite possible that all seven teams in the division finish with 40 wins; that means three decent hockey teams are going to be golfing at the end of 80 games.
The point of this post is to reiterate just how important this stretch of four games against Rockford is to both teams. The Aeros have the edge so far, getting the first two points, and they have the advantage tonight in regards to the schedule. The IceHogs will be playing their fourth in five today after Saturday's 2-1 loss against the Rampage.
Wade Dubielewicz won his eighth game in net Friday, and too, admitted that both teams were treating this stretch of games against Rockford with a little more intensity.
“That is what we are talking about, I guarantee you that is what they are taking about," said Dubielewicz. "Not that we expect it, but a four game sweep either way would be detrimental to either team. Tonight we got game one, and we are happy about that.
"That is the team that we are chasing, and now we are going to re-group, go out there Sunday and try to take Game 2. We’ll take a look at the tape of the game from (Friday) find the holes in our game and find a way to give a better 60-minute effort."
Ah, the full 60-minute effort. Something that has escaped this team for much of the year. They have shown the ability to blow two- and three-goal leads and they have stolen points when they didn't deserve them.
Matt Kassian, one of the best talkers on the team, was great Friday. He talked about his annual goal and he, too, mentioned this four-game mini series against the IceHogs.
"It really is just like a little playoff series, and you don’t even want to give them one point," said Kassian. "Every game is a like a four-point game, so if you can come out on top with three or four wins in this series, then it’s really going to help us out and get us into a good spot."
As for what happens in today's game, that remains to be seen. I expect the Aeros, knowing what's at stake by their own admission Friday, to come out and throttle the IceHogs while they are down.
Anything less, though, that a complete and cerebral effort, will be a disappointment. Rockford would love to take full advtange and even the four-game mini series.