The Quad-City Mallards find themselves in a familiar, if not surprising scenario.
For the second year in a row the Mallards are facing a first-round sweep, down 0-3 against the Fort Wayne Komets.
"It's not fun not winning a game in the playoffs," forward Brady Brassart said. "Last year sucked, four games and you're gone."
Whereas last year, when expectations were low for the eighth-seeded Mallards taking on top-seeded and regular season champion Missouri Mavericks, this series looked like it had the makings for anything but a sweep.
The Mallards had the sixth-best record in the Western Conference, the Komets the fourth-best, and Quad-City had shown capable of being competitive this season with Fort Wayne, going 4-8-0, including winning three straight games midway through the season.
The playoff series has also been close, at least on the scoreboard, with two games decided by one goal, including Game 3 in overtime.
"We should be confident, we’re playing these guys, these are tight games," captain Chris Francis said. "We’re not getting blown out by any means so I don’t think we should be worried. We’ve just got to come in and play like there’s no tomorrow because there is no tomorrow now."
Simply put, the Mallards are battling a very good team in Fort Wayne. The Komets compiled 98 points, fourth-best in the entire league, and to beat a team that good, the Mallards have to play at their best, and also get some bounces.
So far in the series, the bounces have gone more Fort Wayne's way than Quad-City's.
"For us to get the bounces, we need to keep doing what we're doing. If we can play like we did tonight, we definitely have a shot to win on Friday and that's all that matters," forward Grant Arnold said. "I think it helps we have a day off between games so we can regroup, get this loss out of our minds and come out Friday and do the same thing we did (Wednesday)."
At least the Mallards aren't battling league history, too. The Cincinnati Cyclones fell down 0-3 in the 2010 American Conference Finals to the Reading Royals before winning the series in seven games.
The Cyclones went on to win the Kelly Cup that season.
Two other times a team has come back from a 0-3 series hole to at least force a Game 7. It can be done.
"We've been resilient all year, we've bounced back," head coach Phil Axtell said. "They've won five in a row (against us) now, so it's our turn to win four in a row."
The team has shown the ability to go on such a streak, winning eight games in a row earlier this season. Now it just has to win half that.
Game 3 was the Mallards' best game of the series, and to start the long, grueling climb, the team has to commit to what worked Wednesday night.
"Ax put it on the board, get pucks deep and commit to playing for each other and buying into the system. That's what we did," Arnold said. "In our minds, we've got to win one game. If we win Friday, we move on and we keep grinding. We're not looking at it like we've got to win four games, it's one game and it's do or die on Friday. We've got to play the first period like it's our last and we'll have to do that throughout the game."
There are also things that have to be rectified. They have to shut down Mike Cazzola, who has three goals in this series and nine in his last 10 games. The Mallards also have to be better in front of their own net, which was what Fort Wayne took advantage of in Game 3.
"We just had a net-front presence, throwing pucks at the net and when (Mallards goaltender C.J. Motte) is in the zone, he’s playing so well this series, that’s basically what you’ve got to do," Fort Wayne coach Gary Graham said. "All the goals had a similar philosophy to them, we had a guy around the net."
Perhaps most frustrating has been that C.J. Motte has been the Mallards' best player this series, but has yet to get a win.
His numbers aren't stellar — 3.72 goals against average and .899 save percentage — but they don't tell the whole story, as he has kept every game well within striking distance for his team, which just hasn't been able to capitalize.
"It’s frustrating for us too because he’s been such a big part of this team the whole year," Francis said. "He’s won a lot of games for us this year when we haven’t really been at our best. Right now, he’s playing unbelievable and we’re not getting the job done for him. Without him, the game could be a lot different. We’ve just got to bounce back.
"It’s do or die. We’ve got to lay everything on the line. We might come out with a broken hand or something but you’ve got to do whatever it takes to get the job done because we’re in a hole."