If they stopped to think about what they have to do now to advance to the next round, the task could prove too daunting — paralyzing even — for the Albany Devils.
Beat the Toronto Marlies, the best team in the AHL, twice in a row on their home ice at Ricoh Coliseum.
After the Marlies shredded the Devils twice in a row at Times Union Center by scores of 7-2 and 5-1 to take a 3-2 series lead in the North Division Final series.
And Toronto scoring six power play goals in those games
While Albany remains decimated by injuries (Jim O’Brien, Pavel Zacha, Mike Sislo and perhaps others) and suspension (Dan Kelly, out nine more games after his Game 4 hit that sidelined Andreas Johnson).
“It’s desperation time,” Devils captain Rod Pelley told reporters after Game 5, while stressing the Devils can’t lose their identity that got them this far.
That said, to a player and coach, the Devils are relying on one of the most time-honored of sports cliches, one that is dependable, utilitarian and even accurate, to face what’s ahead:
One game at a time.
“We are just focusing on the next game,” Pelley said. “I’m not looking at two games.”
Here is the Devils calculus: The idea of sweeping the next two games is monumental. The concept of winning a Game 6 (3 p.m. today)? Not as much. Remember, the Devils took the opener of the series on the road 2-1, and were tied in the third period of Game 2 in Toronto before losing 5-3.
“We won Game 1,” Albany goalie Scott Wedgewood said. “This is a winnable building for us.”
Win Game 6, and that gets you to a Game 7 on Monday night. And in a Game 7, a one-game series, anything can happen.
“You win the hockey game,” coach Rick Kowalsky said, “then the pressure is back on them. It’s really that simple.”
Well, it’s a little more than that. For the Devils to win that hockey game, they will have to do some certain things:
u Stay out of the penalty box. The Devils must be better on the penalty kill. But a better idea is staying out of the penalty box in the first place. Some penalties are unavoidable — the Marlies scored on the man advantage Thursday when Joseph Blandisi accidentally chipped a mid-air puck over the glass in his defensive zone for a delay-of-game penalty — but Albany by now must be cognizant of just how lethal Toronto is a man up.
u Scorers step up. Blandisi, who appeared hurt in the third period Thursday, has to show up on the goal scoresheet. Nick Lappin is only an amateur tryout rookie, but he has exhibited the talent (the game-tying and overtime game-winning goals in Game 3) to be a difference-maker.
The Devils have scored more than two goals in regulation only once this series, the Game 2 loss. That is not going to get it done.
u Put the puck on net. While Antoine Bibeau, the starter the past four games for Toronto, has not given up the tantalizing rebounds Game 1 starter Garret Sparks did, there have been opportunities for the Devils. Albany needs more: In the last two games, Albany could only muster 26 and 22 shots on goal. Kowalsky is looking for more “dirty” goals — dump the puck and crash, throw it on net and bang in a rebound — and less “cutesy” plays from his skill players.
Most of all he is looking for a win. Just one. Then he and the rest of the Devils will worry about Game 7.