Kings want to enter playoffs on high note
This late in the regular season, some teams have a tendency of laying off the gas pedal.
For other clubs, playoff hockey has started early. Facing elimination from championship contention, “must win” becomes a more common term.
The Prince George Spruce Kings fall under the former group. Even in the weeks leading to Feb. 16, the day they clinched a playoff spot, the Spruce Kings appeared destined to finish third in the five-team Mainland Division.
Only four dates remain on the Spruce Kings’ 56-game regular season, and head coach Dave Dupas hopes they can get on a roll entering the postseason.
Overall the Spruce Kings have 24 wins, 20 losses, one tie and seven overtime defeats (24-20-1-7) in the regular season. But they were only 3-5 in eight games in February.
“We have to be better. It’s just as simple as that,” Dupas said following a practice on Tuesday morning. “We had some tough games, but if we want to go anywhere, we have to beat tough teams in tough buildings when it gets tough for us.”
The Spruce Kings’ four remaining games are home ice match-ups against teams sporting lower winning percentages entering this weekend.
Easy wins, right? Not likely.
At this point, the three regular-season opponents left for the Spruce Kings are still seeking playoff spots. Their rivals for tonight’s game (7 p.m. at the Coliseum), the Vernon Vipers, are clinging to slim playoff hopes with a 17-25-1-9 mark. They’re last in the six-team Interior Division, six points behind the Salmon Arm SilverBacks (22-23-2-4) and Trail Smoke Eaters (24-27-0-2), tied for fourth with 50 points. Three of four playoff teams in the Interior have been determined, and with two games in hand on the Smokies, the SilverBacks appear to have the inside track on the fourth and final spot.
The SilverBacks are the Spruce Kings’ final regular-season opponent. They’ll play on March 9 at the Coliseum.
To wrap up another busy three-game weekend, the Spruce Kings will host their Mainland Division rivals, the Langley Rivermen. They’ll hit the Coliseum ice for a doubleheader on Saturday and Sunday.
The fourth-place Rivermen (22-23-1-5) are the only Mainland team that hasn’t clinched a playoff berth. They sit five points ahead of the last-place Coquitlam Express (22-29-1-0).
Langley can secure a playoff spot and eliminate Coquitlam this weekend. If they sweep the Spruce Kings, they’ll still have a chance at third in the division.
“You look at these last seven (regular-season) games and you think, on that schedule Chilliwack is the one team that is going to be difficult. We should be able to, if we play well, handle the other six games,” Dupas said. “But Coquitlam, Langley, Salmon Arm and Vernon are all still battling for the last playoff spots.”
The Spruce Kings faced a desperate Coquitlam team during a Mainland road trip on the weekend and lost twice, 5-3 on Friday and 4-1 on Sunday. In between the losses, the Spruce Kings recorded a 5-3 win over the Chilliwack Chiefs on Saturday.
Playoffs – The BCHL postseason begins on March 15, with the top four Mainland teams hitting the ice for best-of-five opening round series. If the Spruce Kings finish third, they’ll play at Chilliwack on March 15 and 16. They would play at home on March 17 with a fourth game, if necessary, on March 18.
If a fifth and deciding game is required, it would take place March 19 at the higher seeded team’s arena.
Break – Next week represents a break in the Spruce Kings’ schedule, with the Salmon Arm contest the only game the following weekend.
“It’s nice to be home and nice to get that rest, nice to get off the bus and off the road,” Dupas said. “But with that said, there’s always that added pressure of performing at home where hopefully it gets the guys motivated more and it gets them playing hard for their home fans.”
Star Performance – In Saturday’s win over the Chiefs, Spruce Kings starting goalie Kirk Thompson was named the first star with a 45-save performance. The Chiefs outshot the visitors 48-25.