When teams reach the end of the season and need every point possible, they say they are already in playoff mode.
Then the Fort Wayne Komets are already playing in sudden death.
With 12 games remaining in the regular season, the Komets trail the Florida Everblades by seven points for the ECHL's final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Another problem is that the Everblades have also played one fewer game, which they'll make up Wednesday in Cincinnati.
The only two advantages for the Komets are that Cincinnati is the ECHL's hottest team and the Everblades then come to Fort Wayne for games Friday and Saturday.
``We'll start with Friday night, but we have to win both of them,'' veteran center Brett Smith said.
The Komets can't even afford to win the games in overtime or a shootout thus surrendering a standings point to Florida. They need to win both games in regulation.
``We've got the same attitude we've had the last couple of weeks in that we need points out of every game,'' Komets coach Al Sims said. ``We could win every game the rest of the season and not make the playoffs. We put ourselves in a bit of a hole with the six-game losing streak, but at least we can give ourselves a chance if we get points in every game.''
After a 7-2-1 start, the Komets caught a cold in November, a cough in December and the flu in January, but February's 4-9 record may end up being what kills their season. That record took away any margin for error in March.
``Everybody knows we have to win these games,'' forward Thomas Beauregard said. ``If we win these two games, then we can be three points back maybe. Everyone knows it's a big, big weekend, but everyone is confident.''
As defenseman Tyler Butler said, ``Just keep winning the next one, that's all we can do.''
It's also all they can worry about. With so many teams – Kalamazoo, Florida, Wheeling, South Carolina and possibly even Orlando – fighting for two playoff spots, the Komets need to hope they are the only team that gets hot at the right time.
If Fort Wayne wins the games this weekend, next week's four games become the biggest of the season, and the following week's trip to Elmira becomes bigger yet.
"Every point is do-or-die,'' Smith said. "We need to come to out with that attitude on Friday night.''
With eight home games remaining and two road games each at Elmira and at Kalamazoo, the schedule gives the Komets a chance. So does the recent play of goaltender Jeff Deslauriers and the arrival of defensemen Nick Schaus and Gabe Guentzel from Norfolk of the American Hockey League.
Over the last three weeks, the Komets have rebuilt their defense with the acquisitions of Jamie Milam, Jeremy Gates, Schaus and Guentzel.
"I don't think we should be afraid of any team,'' Sims said. "We have a winning record against Gwinnett; we took three of four points from South Carolina and the best goalie in the league. We've done it against Toledo, Kalamazoo and Cincinnati all year, the same teams we are facing. If we play with the same desperation we played with the last four or five games, we should fare well.''