Backing in wasn't the most pleasant way for the Skipjacks to clinch third place in the AHL's Southern Division, but as coach Rob Laird said after last night's 7-6 overtime loss in Utica, N.Y., "We are where we want to be."
The Jacks, locked at third place after Hershey beat Adirondack, will face second-place Binghamton in the first round of the AHL playoffs. They now have three games remaining this weekend that are meaningless, but Laird doesn't want to see the type of sloppy play the Jacks exhibited last night.
"Obviously these games aren't critical as far as the standings, but I want to see us play smart hockey all the time," Laird said. "We want to avoid the mistakes and keep the same basic game plan, no matter what the score or who we're playing. This isn't the time to let up."
Last night, the playoff-hungry Devils (36-40-2), fighting for the fifth and final playoff spot in the Southern Division, poured on the offense in the third period and the Jacks couldn't take the pressure.
"They went to two lines loaded with offense and the game just opened up," said Laird, whose team led 3-2 after two periods. "It is a small building and we just weren't taking our men real well and they took chances on defense and beat us. I wasn't happy with the way we handled the pressure."
The main culprit was Jerrod Skalde, a Junior import from Oshawa playing his first game in the AHL. Skalde beat Shawn Simpson for the game-winning goal 34 seconds into overtime.
"He's a real good player who stepped in and got the job done for them," Laird said. "The team as a whole had more at stake than we did and they played like it."
The Jacks got a pair of goals from Tim Taylor and Bobby Reynolds and one each from Reggie Savage and John Purves.
The team returns home tomorrow night to face Utica again at the Arena, and then plays at Capital District Saturday and Binghamton Sunday. Utica (74 points) is one point behind Hershey (75) and two behind Adirondack (76) for the final two Southern playoff spots. Each team has two games remaining.
For the Jacks, the playoffs begin in Binghamton next Friday and Saturday and come to the Arena April 11 and 13. Game 5, if necessary, will be in Binghamton on April 17, Game 6 would be in Baltimore on April 19 and a seventh game would be in Binghamton on April 20.
"We need to remain consistent and healthy through the weekend," Laird said. "We're looking forward to a good playoff run."