ALBANY, NY – Amazing how seven months of hockey come down to just five games. The task at hand for the Albany Devils is to remain in the top eight in the Eastern Conference between now and the regular season conclusion on April 19.
After earning one point during last week’s three-in-three road trip, the team returns to Times Union Center for games against Bridgeport Friday (7 pm), against Providence Saturday (5 pm) and against Syracuse Sunday (5 pm).
“The schedule sets up nice for us,” said Head Coach Rick Kowalsky after Wednesday’s practice. “Obviously, we didn’t have the weekend we wanted to or get the results we wanted to last weekend. This is a huge three games. We’re not looking past Friday night, but the opportunity to sleep in our own beds and be in our own building where we’ve had success this year is certainly a positive.”
Albany owns a .717 winning percentage at Times Union Center this season, going 20-7-2-1 and outscoring opponents 95-68.
The Devils, who have 83 points with a 35-23-5-8 record, can move up in the conference. They are five points behind fifth-place Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (88 pts.) and three points behind sixth-place Providence (86 pts.). Additionally, Albany is one point ahead of eighth-place Hershey (82 pts.) and two points ahead of ninth-place Norfolk (81 pts.). Both the Bears and the Admirals have a game in hand on the Devils.
“We know what’s at stake,” said center Darcy Zajac. “I’ve been here for four years now and, obviously, we haven’t been in this situation before, this time of the year. We’re excited and the guys know what’s on the line and I think we had a great practice today. Everyone’s coming ready to play on Friday.”
With Syracuse and Bridgeport in 12th and 13th place, respectively, Saturday is setting up to be the highest-stakes game of the weekend. The Bruins climbed ahead of the Devils last weekend and are 6-2-1-1 in their last 10 games.
Regardless, the Devils focus remains not only on just the next game, but the next shift and the next period.
“You just have to keep your focus small and basically your first shift,” Kowalsky said. “Do everything you can this week to prepare for that first shift, first period on Friday and just move on from there. You kind of create that situation where you’re not looking to the next game. You focus on the details, control what you can control. Right now we’re getting ready for that first game and that first period.”
The Devils resume practice Thursday morning at Times Union Center. Around the Eastern Conference Wednesday, Hartford, Manchester, St. John’s and Worcester are all in action, but none of the games have an immediate impact on the Devils positioning.