The Oklahoma City Barons and Charlotte Checkers last season squared off in a season-on-the-line Game 5 in a first-round American Hockey League playoff series.
A year later, the West division rivals meet Saturday night and Sunday afternoon at the Cox Convention Center. The two games might play a factor on which of the two teams qualify for the playoffs.
With seven games left in the regular season, the Western Conference playoff picture essentially is four teams fighting for the Nos. 7 and 8 seeds.
Heading into Friday night’s action at 7, Charlotte and Rockford were tied for the final two playoff spots with 75 standings points. Oklahoma City is two points back. Rochester, in 10th, is three points behind the Checkers and IceHogs.
“These four (standings) points this weekend are huge,” said Barons defenseman Brad Hunt. “This could be the season for both teams. We’re similar teams, both highly skilled, run-and-gun teams. It should be a lot of fun, almost like a playoff series.”
Twice fending off possible elimination, the Barons won Games 4 and 5 in Charlotte a year ago to gain momentum that sparked a run to the Western Conference finals.
Charlotte’s roster still features 17 players who played in that elimination game the Barons won 6-2. Only four Barons players that skated in Game 5 last year (C.J. Stretch, Taylor Fedun, Brandon Davidson and Ben Eager) will play this weekend.
Mark Arcobello, the Barons’ all-time scorer, was OKC’s leading point-producer in last year’s playoffs. But he is sideline this weekend with what the Edmonton Journal calls a shoulder injury. The Barons’ next four-leading scorers from last year’s playoffs (Tony Rajala, Teemu Hartikainen, Josh Green and Jonathan Cheechoo) are playing overseas.
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