The American Hockey League playoffs officially begin next week. For for the Oklahoma City Barons, the playoffs begin this weekend.
The Barons can clinch the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference with three standings points when they host the Iowa Wild on Friday and Saturday nights at the Cox Convention Center.
“We talked around Christmas that we’d have to play well the rest of the season to make the playoffs,” said Barons defenseman Brad Hunt. “We gained confidence as the season went on.
“We’re hoping to continue that momentum into the playoffs, but we’re not in, yet. We have to win (these last two games). We still have work to do.”
With two games left in the regular season, the Barons have 79 standings points. They need one win and one non-regulation loss to clinch a playoff berth.
Charlotte (77) and Rockford (77) also have two games scheduled this weekend, including a head-to-head meeting in a regular-season finale Saturday night in Rockford.
“We’re in a very good spot right now,” said Oklahoma City defenseman Taylor Fedun. “The last two months, we’ve had our backs to the wall but have responded well. It’s put us in a good position. We don’t have to do any scoreboard watching. We just need to take care of business.”
OKC was a long shot at mid-season, but it has gone 20-9-5 the past three months to have a shot at making the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season under coach Todd Nelson.
The Barons have undergone 152 roster transactions, but they currently have a playoff-quality roster after Edmonton reassigned team captain Anton Lander, forward Tyler Pitlick and three other players to Oklahoma City after the NHL regular season ended last weekend.
Darnell Nurse, Edmonton’s No. 1 pick last season, has joined the Barons after completing his junior career.
“We’re still in the driver’s seat, which is what you want,” said goaltender Richard Bachman. “It’s under our control. It starts with getting a win Friday night.”
The Barons might get another All-Star reinforcement if they reach the playoffs. Mark Arcobello, the franchise’s all-time scoring leader, has been sidelined the past 11 games with a shoulder injury that didn’t require surgery.
Arcobello, who has scored in every game since he was reassigned to Oklahoma City (28 points in 15 games) on Feb. 2, isn’t expected to play this weekend. He might return next week if the Barons make the playoffs.
The Iowa Wild, Minnesota’s Triple-A affiliate, is last in the West. The lowest scoring team in the AHL doesn’t have a skater listed among the league’s top 100 scorers.
“It’s up to us to get it done,” Nelson said. “It won’t be easy. Iowa will want to play spoiler. We’ve seen that many times where teams out of the playoffs play loose, especially their final few games. We just have to play our game.”