With three games in three nights against the Knoxville Ice Bears, the Quad-City Storm are viewing this weekend as a playoff series, a chance to start making a push into the second half of the season.
If that's the case, they're down one game.
The Storm fell 5-3 to the Ice Bears despite dominating the third period, surrendering two power-play goals in the loss.
"I told them before the game, it's a playoff mindset, best of 3," head coach Dave Pszenyczny said. "I told them, unfortunately, we have to play with a playoff mindset all the way until we get to playoffs, that's the mentality we have to have."
The Storm looked to have that mentality in the third period, outshooting the Ice Bears 23-5 in the final frame, and cutting the lead to 4-3 with Skyler Smutek's goal at the 16-minute, 21-second mark. However, Danny Cesarz buried an empty-net goal in the final minute to ice the game.
That third-period push is something the Storm hopes to carry into tonight's rematch at 7:10 p.m.
"I'm at a loss for answers right now. I'm trying to figure everything out," Pszenyczny said. "The last 17 minutes of the third period, why can't we play that way the entire 60 minutes? If we do that, that team isn't even in the same building as us."
The Quad-City Storm opened the game with a pair of fights, one between Smutek and Knoxville's Lucas Bombardier five seconds into the game, then another between Storm forward Austin Hervey — who played for Knoxville last year — and Knoxville's Joe Tolles.
Still, the scraps weren't enough to spark the Storm as they fell behind 1-0 on a power-play goal from Bombardier at the 13-minute, 28-second mark of the first period.
The Storm have been outscored 24-10 in the first period this season.
"We've been trying to have better starts so I just wanted to get the boys going, not only personally for me, getting it out of the way but also trying to get us a spark we needed," Smutek said. "I don't know, we've got to find something to be better in the first period because I feel like if we can figure that out we can be a really dominant team and make a push here."
Tommy Tsicos tied the game up early in the second period. With the Storm on a power play, a shot from Sean Kacerosky rang off the post but the Storm jumped on the rebound and Tsicos buried a pass from Phil Bronner 2:45 into the second period.
John Scully gave the Storm a 2-1 lead with a goal at 6:45 in the period. It’s Scully’s third goal in his last two games and sixth overall with the Storm.
Doug Rose tied the game back up with a goal off of a face-off at 13:27, then Stefan Brucato scored a power-play goal at 19;21 to give the Ice Bears a 3-2 lead heading into the third period.
David Brancik took advantage of a defensive lapse to bury a wide-open backhand past Storm goaltender Peter Di Salvo 42 seconds into the third period. Di Salvo made 26 saves as the Storm outshot the Ice Bears 43-31 in the game. Michael Santaguida made 40 saves for the Ice Bears.
"That team is very skilled and they're going to make you pay when you give them those chances," Pszenyczny said. "The urgency's not there, and that's the problem."