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Devils, Phantoms fight for playoff futures

Devils, Phantoms fight for playoff futures

It’s only fitting the Albany Devils and Adirondack Phantoms should both have a chance to end the oth

It’s only fitting the Albany Devils and Adirondack Phantoms should both have a chance to end the others’ seasons.

The teams play a home-and-home series, in Glens Falls tonight at 7 and in Albany on Saturday night at 7. A pair of losses for

either could easily end any hopes of a playoff berth. Even a split could be enough, depending on how the other games shake out, to leave the teams needing a miracle to make the postseason cut.

“I think coming out of these two games, one of these two teams’ season is going to be over, for all intents and purposes,” Albany centerman Brad Mills said. “We want to be on the right side of that, and for them to be on the wrong side of it.

“I think it’s going to come down to who’s going to be the better hockey club in all facets of the game. Who’s going to be more

determined physically, who’s going to execute, who’s going to be more disciplined — not just in taking penalties, but in terms of playing the system. Ninety percent of the time, when two teams are evenly matched in terms of skill level and they’ve been battling tightly all year, it comes down to compete level, who wants it more. It’s going to be a big test for us, it’s a challenge, and we’d like nothing more than to end their season for them.”

Mills has emerged like a dormant bud on a goal-tree, sensing spring and coming to life with 10 points (three goals, seven assists) in his last 12 games.

He had three goals and nine assists in his previous 32 games. He’s been seeing more time in all situations, which he credits for the point outburst.

“Getting an opportunity on the power play helps you get some more offensive looks. As you get more opportunities, your con-

fidence grows a little bit,” Mills said. “I’ve had some good fortune playing with guys who have found me with the puck. I’ve found that my energy has been better. It feels like I’ve been getting in a rhythm. It’s one of those things, scoring comes in bursts. I’ve been bursting lately, and hopefully I keep bursting so we can have some success in the next five games.”

Along with the re-emergence of captain Stephen Gionta, who has been a linemate of Mills in recent weeks, the Devils have been getting strong shifts from players who had been quiet for a while.

Those shifts have contained quite a few goals of late, but Albany coach Rick Kowalsky is especially enjoying all the other work being put in.

“He’s one of the guys who’s really stepped up and been, arguably, our best player here,” Kowalsky said of Mills. “Not just about the points. I’ve really liked his complete game. He’s been great on the penalty kill. I’ve used him, periodically throughout the year, on the power play. He gets to the front of the net, he plays in those nasty areas. I’m maybe playing him more than I should at times, but he’s been rock solid for us. He’s been physical, an important faceoff guy, he’s been involved in both specialty teams, and putting points on the board, which we need more of.”

They need more, starting tonight against an Adirondack team that has won the last two meetings by one goal. The Devils have lost two overtime games in the Glens Falls Civic Center this season, too.

Albany is in 12th place in the Eastern Conference with 71 points and five games left. Adirondack is in 10th with 72 with six left. The eighth and final playoff spot is held, loosely, by Manchester with 76 points and five games left.

With a loss, there remain mathematic possibilities for a playoff run, but a low probability. A pair of losses would be devastating.

“Mathematically, you can look at all the numbers, but we can’t look at these five games. We have to look at Friday,” Kowalsky said after Thursday’s practice. “It’s that simple. That’s how you would look at it in a playoff series. ... We have to look at every game — not as a must-win, because you don’t want to take that mentality — but you have to take the mentality that this is our playoffs.”

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