First place in the AHL's West Division is at stake this weekend as the Oklahoma City Barons and Abbotsford Heat meet in a two-game series Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. inside the Cox Convention Center.
When the series is over, the Barons will have played six games in an eight-day span, their busiest stretch of the season.
OKC snapped a two-game losing streak with a 5-4 victory at Rockford on Wednesday.
“It was huge to win that game,” Barons coach Todd Nelson admitted. “That would have been a pretty devastating game for us to lose. It's tough to go into a weekend series when you're not feeling good about yourself.”
OKC (11-4-0-1) swept the Heat (11-4-1-0) in Abbotsford on Nov. 3 and 5. The Barons won both games late, scoring with 36 seconds left in regulation and winning two nights later in overtime.
The Heat hasn't lost since, is riding a four-game winning streak and is 9-1 on the road this season.
When the Barons were piecing together a six-game winning streak that started at Houston three weeks ago, Nelson noted how his players had developed a bit of a swagger and their confidence grew with each victory.
However, the Barons lost 3-2 in back-to-back games last Saturday at home against Charlotte and Sunday at Milwaukee.
“What started us on that winning streak were good habits, but we got away from that,” Nelson said. “We started taking shortcuts and that's pretty normal with any team when it's not playing well. We kind of got back on track Wednesday night, but we weren't as dominant as we wanted to be.
“If we had gone into this weekend on a three-game losing streak, we probably wouldn't have much composure and that swagger would be gone. Our character shined through in the end at Rockford.”
Nelson said a coach can learn many things about his team during a demanding stretch such as this, among them being depth, stamina and attitude.
“But it's going to be about character this weekend,” Nelson said. “Anytime there are back-to-back games, tempers do flair. We both know what's at stake. It's going to be a huge weekend.
“Abbotsford is playing really well right now. They're rolling pretty good. They're a good road hockey team, too. It's going to be a very tough weekend. The checking will be tight. We've got to be ready to play because it's not going to be easy at all.”
John Rohde: 475-3099. John Rohde can be heard Monday-Friday from 6-7 p.m. on The Sports Animal Network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1. Follow him on Twitter @RohdeOK.