The Quad-City Mallards now know they're opening up the playoffs on the road, but an opponent still has to be determined.
The Mallards lost 4-3 to the Alaska Aces on Friday night, which, coupled with Fort Wayne's win over Cincinnati, means the Mallards will be either the three or four seed in the opening round of the playoffs.
The loss snapped a four-game winning streak for the Mallards and cut their lead over Kalamazoo for third place to four points. The Mallards' magic number to clinch the three seed remains at three points.
It's a bit of a blow, but considering Quad-City has won 20 road games, not one the team is all that concerned about.
"You've just got to take it head on," captain Chris Francis said. "It's going to be a good series no matter what, even if you're home or away. We've just got to be mentally prepared, sharpen our gameplan and execute."
The Mallards got out of their gameplan early against the Aces, who are fighting for the final playoff spot in the Mountain Division. Peter Sivak scored his 35th goal of the season on a shot that trickled through the pads of Adam Vay at the 8-minute, 22-second mark of the first period, then Daniel Moynihan made it 2-0 at 15:54.
Mackenze Stewart made it 3-0 at 4:53 in the second period.
Though the first and third goals were tough ones to concede, the team still has plenty of confidence in their rookie goaltender.
"He's been playing unbelievable for us," defenseman Mike Wilson said. "The first one, kinda shot through a screen, a tough time seeing it. Other than that, he bounced back, I thought he played pretty well."
Wilson admitted the Mallards may have been slightly unprepared for the physical style of the Aces, something the team really hadn't seen lately against opponents like Wichita and Indy, who are at the bottom of the standings.
"It's a little different hockey than going down to Wichita," he said. "They forecheck pretty hard, they had two guys coming at us, we weren't, as a defense corps I don't think we were quite ready for it."
The Mallards were without Alex Petan, Grant Arnold and Josh MacDonald, but still battled back. Michael Parks scored his team-leading 28th goal of the season, then, after Brad Navin made it 4-1 in the third period, Adam Gilmour and Jack Nevins scored to cut it to 4-3.
The Mallards couldn't find the equalizer, though they had plenty of quality chances turned away by Kevin Carr, who made 36 saves in net.
"We weren't physical enough," head coach Phil Axtell said. "We didn't stick to the gameplan. We've had success when we're going to their net at all times and we just didn't have it tonight."
The two teams meet again tonight at the iWireless Center at 7 p.m., and the Mallards welcome the challenge against a team fighting for its playoff life. It's a good primer for the postseason.
"It's good to get knocked down a peg, we know it's not going to be easy going forward," Francis said. "It was good to see the way the guys responded in the second and third period."