By this time the past few years, the collapse had already started.
This season, something different is happening. The Albany Devils have 11 games left and are not mired in a season-ending fall from the playoff picture.
The Devils enter this three-in-three weekend with 11 games to play, sitting in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, seven points ahead of ninth-place Hershey.
Since coming back to Albany, the Devils have had horrible results in March and April, and those results dropped them out of the playoff race the past two seasons (they were not in the race in 2011). So far in 2014, Albany is 5-3-1-2 in March and on a five-game point streak (4-0-1-0).
“The past two years, we’ve been in a position like this, and we haven’t really gotten it done,” Albany winger Joe Whitney said. “I think we’re smelling blood here, and we know we have a good chance of getting in if we stick to what we’ve been doing. The guys in the room understand how big these points are. For guys like myself, who have been around the past two years, we’ve learned from that experience and we’re not going to let that happen again.”
Last season, the Devils were 9-13-0-3 in March and April, finishing their last 18 games at 4-12-0-2. The season before, they were 5-13-1-2 in the last two months of the season, going 4-13-1-2 in their last 20 games. Their first season back in Albany, the 2010-11 season, ended with a 10-10-0-2 mark in March and April, but a 3-8-0-2 mark in their last 13.
Albany’s weekend begins tonight at 7 in Hershey. It will host Worcester on Saturday at 5 p.m., then host Binghamton on Sunday at 3 p.m.
“Our focus and our ability to move on to the next game, whether it’s a win or a loss, has been a key part to our success,” Albany coach Rick Kowalsky said. “I think that’s a credit to the guys in the room. If you look at teams that have success, you’re able to regroup after each game. The peaks and valleys, we talk about them all the time, and I think that’s why we’ve been more even-keel this year.”
That has helped the Devils avoid long skids. Only three times this season have they lost consecutive games in regulation. Their longest pointless streak lasted four games, from Oct. 26-Nov. 2.
Their current five-game point streak is their third of at least that length, the longest being a nine-game point streak (7-0-2-0) from Nov. 23-Dec. 21.
Another thing helping Albany has been the consistency of its lineup. Parent club New Jersey has not needed nearly as many call-ups this season as it has in recent campaigns.
“It helps with the chemistry between lines and D pairings,” said Whitney, whose chemistry with linemate Scott Timmins has helped him to another solid season. “Also, you come to the rink every day, and it’s the same group of guys, everybody’s excited to see each other and get to work that day.”
Whitney is in his third season with Albany after a collegiate career with Boston College, where postseason participation was a regular occurrence. It’s something he said he’s missed the past two springs.
“It’s exciting because once the regular season ends, you get in the playoffs and it’s a clean slate,” Whitney said. “There’s no records. Everybody’s at zero. That’s refreshing, you get a new life, and you kind of get a second wind. You’re kind of gassed after the regular season, but you get a second wind, knowing you can have a chance to make a run at a championship.”