It’s likely too late for the Quad-City Mallards to make the playoffs but they’re showing plenty of fight.
The Mallards beat the Kalamazoo Wings 6-3 Friday at the TaxSlayer Center, their third straight win.
Since a 13-game losing streak, the Mallards are now 10-6-1. Since losing to the Wings 8-2 last month, the Mallards have now won four straight games over Kalamazoo.
"I think all of us are buying in and sticking with the system," defenseman Alexander Kuqali said. "We have proof now that when we all buy in and we stick to our game plan, do the right things, win one-on-one battles, win the blue lines ... we can beat any team in this league."
A big part of this turnaround has come after that 8-2 loss. The Mallards were down 4-1 with three minutes left the next night in Kalamazoo, but rallied to win in a shootout. Since then the team is 9-4-1.
"That was huge, that was a major character win," Kuqali said. "That showed our team what we're made of, and I think it gave us life again. We're all capable of playing that way, now we just need to do it on a more consistent basis."
The Mallards jumped out to a 3-0 lead Friday night, starting with a goal that sparked some controversy.
A shot from Kyle Follmer ricocheted up and off the bottom of the crossbar at the 3-minute, 27-second mark of the period. The goal light came on, but referee Andrew Wilk initially ruled no goal. Only after a conference with the goal judge did Wilk rule it a goal, putting the Mallards up 1-0 and drawing the ire of Wings goaltender Michael Garteig.
Garteig responded by spraying his water bottle all over the glass in front of the goal judge, a stunt he repeated at the end of the period, though the Mallards had tacked on two more goals thanks to Tristan King and Alex Globke, who scored shorthanded at 16:28 in the period.
The Mallards entered the game with three shorthanded goals this season, tied for 23rd in the league. They scored two Friday night, with Kuqali scoring to give the Mallards a 4-1 lead after Eric Kattelus scored a goal that, like Follmer's, went off the bottom of the crossbar to start the second period.
The Wings cut the lead to 4-3 with two quick goals to start the third period but the Mallards responded with a goal from Jamie Tardif and King's second of the game and 10th of the season. King has seven goals and nine points in his last eight games.
"We've got to buckle down in the D-zone when we get a lead. There has to be more communication and a little more urgency in the D-zone," head coach Phil Axtell said. "But there was a lot of the talk on the bench ... stuck to the game plan and executed the game plan."
The Mallards finished the night with four special teams goals, two on the power play and two coming shorthanded.
"We changed up a couple of little things on our PK and back to basics, sticking to the little details, and they're really paying off for us," Kuqali said. "We're all in sync and on the same page, and it shows."
Despite all this recent good play, the Mallards are still 16 points out of a playoff spot with 23 games remaining. Thirteen of those games are against the division, so a major comeback isn't totally off the table, but regardless of how the Mallards finish, they've shown a lot over the last month.
"They're proving that they're a passionate group, to stare adversity in the eyes and the low we had, to start climbing out of that hole," Axtell said. "They've got that never-quit attitude."