Since taking over as head coach in January, Phil Axtell hasn't been one to make fiery speeches at intermissions.
But after a rough first period in which the Quad-City Mallards were tied with the Alaska Aces, Axtell got on his team in the locker room.
"I don't like yelling at them because I know they know they're making mistakes but it seemed like tonight, we weren't trying as hard as we could," Axtell said. "Basically I told them, I wouldn't care if they were making mistakes if their feet and the speed was high. But it didn't seem like that to me. It seemed like their feet was standing still, we weren't moving up the ice as a unit, and they were making mistakes. So I thought we could play better."
The Mallards responded, scoring three goals in less than six minutes in the third period to grab a 4-2 win, clinching the three seed in the Central Division and setting up a first-round matchup with the Fort Wayne Komets in two weeks.
The win also gives the Mallards 40 wins for the first time since the 2005-06 season.
"Proud of the guys," Axtell said. "We just have to stay focused and stick to the game plan and keep our effort and focus at the high level that we're playing with."
The Mallards had a similarly sluggish first period in a 4-3 loss to the Aces on Friday, and Axtell's passion at intermission got the team's attention.
"It definitely got through to us and we knew we had to play better, especially in front of our home crowd and going into the playoffs," forward Justin Kovacs said. "We got lucky coming out of there with the score 1-1. Coach came in and he was pretty fired up at us. We talked about simplifying things, getting back to the basics and we were able to come out for the next 40 minutes and play pretty decent, come out with the win."
Kovacs had two goals on the night, one at the end of the first period to tie the game and the fourth of the game to give the Mallards a 4-1 lead.
Kyle Novak had an assist on Kovacs' second goal, his first career assist after signing with the Mallards out of Western Michigan University on Monday.
"I'm just trying to keep my game simple and fit in with the guys before I try anything too crazy," Novak said. "It's just a whole different pace than college, guys think smarter not harder here so I'm trying to adjust to that."
Before Kovacs' second goal, Michael Parks gave the Mallards a 2-1 lead with his 29th goal of the season at the 6-minute, 39-second mark of the third period. Less than two minutes later, Chris Francis gave the team a 3-1 lead with his 26th goal of the year.
Adam Vay made 39 saves in net for his 20th win of the season while Kevin Carr made 23 saves in net for Alaska, which dropped into fifth place in the Mountain Division with the loss.
The Mallards still have three games left before the playoffs, including two to close out the regular season against Fort Wayne. The Mallards are 4-6-0 against Fort Wayne this year but have won the last three, and could split the series with a sweep next weekend.
"They had our number early in the season but we've kind of adjusted and kind of have been able to figure out how to play with them," Kovacs said. "It's going to be exciting, we play them a lot coming up here. The first two games are going to be huge, make a statement going into the series."