It all comes down to three games.
The Windsor Spitfires are in a serious battle for playoff positioning as they enter the final weekend of the regular season. You couldn’t write a better script: the Spitfires, Guelph Storm and Saginaw Spirit are battling for the sixth, seventh and eighth seeds in the OHL’s Western Conference; all three teams are within one point of each other with just days remaining on the schedule. The goal is to avoid the eighth-seed and a match-up against Canada’s top-ranked team, the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.
The standings look like this:
OHL Western Conference
6. Guelph Storm – 67-points – games left: at Kitchener, at Erie.
7. Windsor Spitfires – 66-points – games left: v. Owen Sound, at Flint, v. Saginaw
8. Saginaw Spirit – 66-points – games left: v. London, at Windsor.
The Spirit lost 8-1 against the Greyhounds on Wednesday night, putting them even with the Storm in games-remaining.
What happens if the teams tie for points? The OHL has a complicated system for tiebreakers:
The first tiebreaker is determined by the number of wins; whoever has the most gets the higher seed. If the teams are tied in wins, then it is the best record based on points in head-to-head games between the teams including overtime losses. The procedure goes even deeper after that but that’s an unlikely scenario.
Thursday Night Thriller
On Thursday night the Spitfires welcome the Owen Sound Attack to the WFCU Centre. The Attack are in a battle themselves, sitting two points back of the London Knights for home-ice in the first round. This isn’t a throw-away game for them.
The Attack have won two of three meetings between the clubs this season, splitting the two games in Owen Sound, while the Attack beat the Spitfires 6-3 in November in Windsor. Led by Las Vegas Golden Knights prospect Nick Suzuki’s 94-points in 62 games, the Attack boast one of the league’s top offences this season with 264 goals. Only the Hounds, Sarnia Sting and Barrie Colts have more. They’re a team that can beat you with any line and the Spitfires have seen it firsthand.
This isn’t to say the Spitfires can’t beat them. After a 9-2 loss in Owen Sound earlier this season, the Spitfires toppled the Attack 5-4 in overtime on Oct. 29. It was a confidence booster for the Spitfires who won two more games right after. Given both clubs have plenty to play for, this should be a game for the ages.
Western Weekend Showdowns
After a day off on Friday, the Spitfires prepare for two games against Western division foes. On Saturday, the team heads up I-75 in Michigan for a Saturday night showdown against the last place Flint Firebirds. The game marks the Firebirds’ final game this season.
While the Firebirds have just 19 wins this season, 13 of those were at home, including a 4-2 win over the Spitfires in January. That was their lone regulation win against the Spitfires this season as the Spits hold a 3-1-1 head-to-head record. This is a game neither team will want to lose. The Firebirds don’t want to end their season on a losing note while each point is huge for the young Spitfires.
Saturday night also features the Storm who will play the Otters in Eerie and the Spirit will be at home to face the Knights. There’s no doubt the Spitfires will be watching the scoreboard and playing like their season is on the line.
On Sunday, however, things could get even more interesting.
On the final day of the regular season, the Spirit make their way to the WFCU Centre for an afternoon tilt with the Spitfires. The Spitfires are 4-3 this season against the Spirit but are just 1-2 at the WFCU Centre. While the Spits won their home opener 3-1 against the Spirit, they’ve dropped 4-2 and 3-2 decisions since then. The teams are almost a mirror image of each other with home-and-away records – the Spits are 15-12-3-2 at home while the Spirit are 12-15-6-0 on the road.
Their last meeting was on Mar. 3 in Saginaw when the Spitfires earned a 4-0 win thanks to a Michael DiPietro shutout.
Depending on what happens heading into the weekend, this could be a critical game. Two points that could mean everything are on the line. It wouldn’t be surprising if the season standings came down to the final game or even the final period.
Golden Opportunity for Youth
It’s weekends like this that create the team you want for the future. When the Spitfires decided to rebuild the roster around youth and valuable picks, nobody knew what was going to happen. The team went from near the top of the Western Conference Standings to fighting for a playoff spot.
Now that they have the coveted “X” next to their name, getting into a playoff position battle could be the ideal situation for this young roster, when every period and every shift matters. What more can you ask for in hockey?
The young players, such as 17-year-olds Curtis Douglas and Mathew MacDougall, plus 16-year-olds Nathan Staios and Daniel D’Amico, will be playing in games that define a season. With this knowledge and experience, they can apply it to their next few seasons with the Spitfires.
This isn’t just another three-game weekend for the Spitfires. Not by any stretch. This is where all the hard work from the past six months comes out. They will want to position themselves as well as possible in the standings, hoping to create an upset in the first round.
You can get your tickets to both Thursday’s game against the Attack and Sunday’s game against the Spirit by checking out the Spitfires’ website. Playoff information will be available early next week.