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031618-MALLARDS-TOLEDO-WALLEYE-033

Quad-City Mallards forward Matt Pohlkamp (20) takes the puck in front of Toledo Walleye defenseman and former Mallard Kevin Gibson during a game earlier this season. Pohlkamp leads the team with 17 goals and 40 points as the team prepares for its final three games in the ECHL this week.

Andy Abeyta Quad-City Times

This is it.

The Quad-City Mallards play their last three ECHL games this week, starting tonight against the Rapid City Rush. After this weekend, the organization will pack up its bags and head out of town, potentially for good as the Mallards announced last month they'll cease ECHL operations at the end of the week.

At a glance, it might not seem like there's not much incentive for the Mallards to play with much purpose and passion this week but the players know what these last three games mean to the community.

"These last three games, mostly for the fans, we want to give them a show, give them our best effort, give them what they deserve for coming out these last three games," forward Matt Pohlkamp said. "They've been with us all year long. It's been a tough year so to go out there and try to get them a couple wins would be the least we can do."

Believe it or not, there's still something at stake this week for the Mallards besides fan service.

The team currently has a one-point lead over the Rush as both teams try to avoid the ignominious title of worst team in the league. The Mallards went 1-0-1 against the Rush last weekend.

"We knew this weekend what these games were, not to be in last place," Pohlkamp said. "Before (last Friday's) game (goaltender C.J. Motte) stood up and said we had to know what we were playing for, we don't want to be that team. He kind of gave us a spark there. We know what's on the line."

That means tonight's game can be something of a playoff of its own. The two teams played one-goal games in South Dakota and this game can offer similar value.

If the Mallards win, they'll have a three-game lead over the Rush with two games to play. If they lose, they're one point back.

"No one likes to lose," head coach Phil Axtell said. "Before (a series two weeks ago in Tulsa) I had a meeting and pointed out they're not playing for me or any other staff members and not really playing for the organization either. They're playing for one another and if they all play as a team, it helps everyone out and makes everyone look better."

The Mallards have gone 3-1-1 since that talk.

The Mallards can also have a final say in the ECHL playoff race. Kalamazoo, Indy and Kansas City are all within a point of each other in the Central Division standings and the Mallards host the Wings on Friday. A win could seriously cripple the Wings' playoff chances and potentially even knock them out.

So there's plenty to play for this weekend.

"The guys want to end on a good note," defenseman Kyle Follmer said. "Take three games, try and spoil someone's playoff chances and give the fans a good weekend of hockey." 

A franchise to play for: Follmer has been around the Mallards for parts of three seasons, joining the team in 2015. He played one game in 2016 but was back several times as a member of the Fort Wayne Komets.

He returned this season, a believer in the team's potential. Though that potential may have been squandered, Follmer recognizes how special it was to be a part of the Mallards.

"It's tough to see a franchise like this go," Follmer said. "Good fans, we get treated really well here and it's too bad that for whatever reason, they can't make it work. I'm trying to be supportive, say thank you to all the people I see at the rink every day, the fans, the booster club and trying to go out on a good note with a bunch of people who have supported us."

This week: The Mallards host the Rapid City Rush today at 6:35 p.m. All tickets to the game are available for $5. The Mallards are 1-0-1 against the Rush this season, 28-13-4 all-time.

Friday, the Mallards host the Kalamazoo Wings for $2 Dogs/$2 Beer Night presented by 97X at 7 p.m. The Mallards are 4-3-0 against the Wings this season, 33-26-10 all-time.

Saturday, the Mallards conclude their season by hosting the Cincinnati Cyclones on Jimmy John's Fan Appreciation Night at 7 p.m. The Mallards will have several giveaways throughout the game for fans. The Mallards are 1-5-2 against the Cyclones this season, 9-16-14 all-time.

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Sports reporter for the Quad-City Times