Seven of the eight playoff positions in the Southern Professional Hockey League have been decided.
The Columbus Cottonmouths went a long way this weekend towards grabbing the eighth and final spot.
Columbus took both games against the Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs in Virginia this weekend, winning 6-3 on Friday and 4-3 in overtime on Saturday. With the regulation tie on Saturday, the Dawgs picked up one point, but Columbus still has a commanding four-point lead over Roanoke with a game in hand.
The Cottonmouths are mathematically alive for the seventh seed, but it would take perfection in their six remaining games and a monumental 0-5 Pensacola collapse to hop the Ice Flyers for the seventh spot. The easier task is the eighth seed, which Columbus can clinch with three more victories in their six remaining games.
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Just one more Columbus standings point will eliminate last-place Evansville from playoff contention and make it a two-team race with Roanoke.
The Cottonmouths definitely have the advantage over the Dawgs in degree of difficulty in their remaining schedule. Three of Columbus’ remaining contests are against last-place Evansville, while three of Roanoke’s five remaining games are on the road at league-leading Macon. The Cottonmouths do have a home-and-home series this week with Mississippi, while the Dawgs travel to Knoxville on Tuesday to face the Ice Bears.
The Rail Yard Dawgs and the Cottonmouths face each other once more during the regular season on April 4 in Roanoke.
The perfect weekend continues Columbus’ success over the past seven weeks. Since Feb. 3, the Cottonmouths are 12-9-2 after an 8-19-2 start.
Many have pointed to the Jan. 19 bus crash en route to Peoria, Ill., as the turning point in the Cottonmouths season, an event that galvanized the locker room and brought the team together as a cohesive unit.
“Not everybody in that room has been through it, but the guys that have been through it have really come together,” head coach Jerome Bechard told the Roanoke Times after Saturday’s game. “The guys who have joined us have really brought in some heart and hard work … they’re playing for each other. It doesn’t really matter who scores. It doesn’t really matter who’s done what. Those two points are the most important.
“The guys who can play are playing for the guys who can’t … we’re playing for some guys who are unable to play. At the end of the day, that’s what life is all about.”
The Cottonmouths’ final two regular season home games are this weekend at the Civic Center. They face Mississippi on Friday and Evansville on Saturday, with puck drop at 7:30 p.m. both nights.