No longer in control of the three-team fight for the last playoff spot in the ECHL's Mountain Division entering the final week of the regular season, the Alaska Aces need not waste emotional energy pondering what-ifs or calculating various mathematical permutations.
All they can do is try to take the maximum six points available from their three-game series against the playoff-bound Idaho Steelheads, starting with Wednesday night's opener, and see where that leaves them.
"We've got to win, that's the bottom line," said Aces center Stephen Perfetto.
The last playoff berth in the division will go to either the Utah Grizzlies, Aces or Missouri Mavericks. Utah (75 points) owns a one-point lead on Alaska (74) and a three-point lead on Missouri (72) heading into its three-game home series against the Mavericks, which also opens Wednesday night.
On the first tie-breaker front — combined regulation and overtime wins (ROW) — Alaska and Utah are, well, tied. Each owns 31, and Missouri has 29.
On the second tie-breaker front — goal differential — the order is Missouri (minus-6), Alaska (minus-7) and Utah (minus-17).
This week will either mark the first time the Aces, a three-time Kelly Cup-winning club, have made the playoffs since they won the Cup in 2014, or the end of the franchise. Ownership previously announced the franchise will fold at season's end because of deep financial losses.
The return of Perfetto from the Milwaukee Admirals of the American Hockey League should enhance the Aces' chances of making the playoffs. The first-line center is Alaska's co-leading scorer with 27-37—64 totals in 48 games. For what it's worth, Perfetto in his first three games back with the Aces following his first of two promotions to the AHL this season, rattled off 5-3—8 totals.
"He's going to make a difference," said Aces coach Rob Murray. "The last time he got called up, by San Antonio, when he came back, he had a different attitude about what it takes to be a pro.
"People talk about guys who go to the NHL from the AHL and say they need to keep that NHL pace when they go back to the A. He did that when he came back from San Antonio. He's an example of how to play to get to the next level."
Like Perfetto, Murray said the Aces can only focus on taking care of their end of the regular season.
"We haven't done what we needed to do, but somehow find ourselves in a position where if we can win our games, that might be enough," Murray said. "There's no reason for us to think we can't go out and get the wins we need."
Idaho is locked into third place in the division, but don't expect the Steelheads to coast. No team headed to the postseason wants to stumble into it.
Shuffling the deck
Murray said winger Yan-Pavel Laplante is questionable (lower-body injury) for Wednesday's game.
Defenseman Dax Lauwers, who has missed the last seven games with a lower-body injury, is available.
The Aces will auction limited game-worn jerseys after the games Friday and Saturday. Friday's jerseys will be the Glacier Blue third jerseys and Saturday's will be NHL-themed as a nod to the club's affiliation with the Vancouver Canucks.
The Aces released defenseman Matt Geurts of Chugiak on Tuesday. Goaltender Steven Summerhays of Anchorage, picked up off waivers from Florida, was expected to arrive in town Tuesday night and be available for Wednesday's game.
Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, 7:15 p.m.
Radio: Live, AM-750 and FM-103.7 KFQD
THREE HOCKEY TEAMS, ONE PLAYOFF SPOT
With three games left in the regular season, the lone playoff spot remaining in the ECHL's Mountain Division is at stake this week and will be earned by either the Utah Grizzles, Alaska Aces or Missouri Mavericks.
The Grizzlies own a one-point lead over the Aces and three-point cushion over the Mavericks, who they entertain for the final three games Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. The Aces, meanwhile, entertain playoff-bound Idaho on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.
The Grizzlies and Aces are tied for the first tie-breaker — regulation and overtime wins (ROW) — with 31 each, and the Mavericks have 29.
Here's the situation: