This may be the last opportunity for the Albany Devils to control their own playoff fate.
Albany enters a three-night homestand and has four of its final five games in the friendly confines of the Times Union Center, where the Devils are 20-9-3-2 and outscore teams 101-80.
In the past three seasons, the Devils have turned in dismal March and April efforts, or at least results, and fell late from playoff consideration. In the last seven games, they are 1-3-2-1, earning five of 14 possible points and threatening to falter again down the stretch.
This homestand, though, could be just what they need to earn their first playoff berth since returning to Albany.
“I don’t think the last five games of our season could set up any better for us,” Albany captain Rod Pelley said. “In saying that, there’s a lot of dangerous teams out there that are very good on the road, also. So our mindset isn’t changing, as far as what we need to do. We’re going to focus on Friday night’s game and take it from there.”
Tonight’s game, set to start at 7, is against Bridgeport, against whom the Devils are 6-2-0-1 this season and 4-0-0-0 in Albany. In those four home games, the Devils have outscored the Sound Tigers, 21-10.
Union College product Keith Kinkaid is 5-0-0 this season against Bridgeport with only four goals against. In nine games against the Sound Tigers, Joe Whitney has five goals and six assists. Raman Hrabarenka (3-6-9 in seven games) and Stefan Matteau (3-4-7 in seven games) also have had success against Bridgeport.
The Sound Tigers’ roster has seen quite a bit of movement throughout the season. Only three of the top 14 point-producers in games against the Devils are still on the roster.
“It’s a dangerous situation and a dangerous team,” Pelley said. “You’ve got guys who are playing for a lot of different things at this time of the year. They may have a lot of new guys in their lineup who are called up from college or juniors who want to prove something. That can be a dangerous team to play against.”
Of the 23 players on Bridgeport’s roster, six just finished up their collegiate season and four are fresh from juniors. Three others recently came up from the ECHL.
The Devils finish the weekend with a pair of 5 p.m. starts, Saturday against Providence and Sunday against Syracuse. They have played Providence just once, a 3-2 shootout loss, and are 3-2-0-0 against Syr-acuse this season, having outscored the Crunch, 13-9.
Albany needs every point it can get. It sits in seventh place in the Eastern Conference with 83 points with five games to play, one point ahead of eighth-place Hershey and two points ahead of ninth-place Norfolk. Both Hershey and Norfolk have a game in hand on Albany.
Pelley said he believes the Devils have enough energy to close the season well, and if they don’t, they might have chosen the wrong profession.
“The way I always thought about it, we have a young team here and a lot of fresh legs,” he said. “If guys are tired right now, I think they should re-evaluate. It’s a long season, and the way we want to play every night, it’s taxing on the body. But if you’re taking care of yourself and you’re doing the right things, you should be excited for this last push. This is the most fun time to play, and every game is basically a playoff game. If you don’t have the energy to get up for those, then you could be in the wrong business.”