It is a race the St. John's IceCaps have designs on winning.
Watching somebody else lift up the Calder Cup in celebration in a month or so just won't do -- especially after all the blood and sweat that has been spilled on the Rock this season.
And so while the Newfoundland and Labrador capital is alive with American Hockey League playoff fever these days -- some have said their OT win over the Syracuse Crunch was the loudest Mile One Centre has been in a decade -- those in the IceCaps' room are fully aware the gruelling part of this run to the championship is just now coming into focus.
"There are eight teams left in the American Hockey League right now and we're lucky to be one of them," said St. John's head coach Keith McCambridge in a telephone interview Monday. "We don't look too far ahead of ourselves... we really are taking it period by period, game by game. I know that's cliche, but it fits."
The IceCaps open up Round 2 of the AHL playoffs tonight at home against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins with the knowledge their already-deep lineup is just now enjoying the benefits of some players who have returned from injury -- including Derek Meech, Brock Trotter, Paul Postma and Marco Rosa -- as well as the addition of Winnipeg Jets' first-round draft pick Mark Scheifele.
That beefed-up attack has made a team that could best be described as ridiculously balanced -- 51 players in the AHL finished with more points than the IceCaps leading point man, Spencer Machachek -- even more difficult to defend at the most critical stage of the season.
"That's been our team from Day 1," McCambridge said. "We didn't have a guy in the Top 20 scoring for the majority of the season... we've always been about that term, 'scoring by committee.' We've always had balance in our four lines and in our back end. Our depth is the biggest thing we've had in the regular season and in the playoffs. We don't rely on one or two players or one line. It's hard to recognize which is our first line and which is our fourth line.
"It's nice to have those options so that if there are nights where a team decides they're going to shut down a line you can lean on any of the other three lines.
"The biggest thing as we've added all these pieces here -- Brock Trotter, Marco Rosa, (Derek) Meech and Paul Postma, (Ray) Sawada, -- is we knew as a coaching staff we were going to have to get these guys up to playoff speed for this first round. We've made strides every game and gotten better every game.
"Every game that experience and chemistry is growing with this team."
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What to expect
ROUND 2: Begins tonight in St. John's against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins
IceCaps head coach Keith McCambridge on the Penguins:
"They've got big defencemen that protect the front of the net really well and they've got balance up front with some guys that can move and some guys that add the physicality, and strong goaltending. They're a team that is pretty stingy when it comes to letting the other team generate chances."
Who's hot for the IceCaps:
D Derek Meech: Missed all but eight games this year with knee problems, but had three goals and two assists in the first round.
F Aaron Gagnon: Three goals, two assists in the first round.
F Brock Trotter: Picked up at the trade deadline, the Brandon product had a goal and three assists against Syracuse.
G Eddie Pasquale: Posted a .932 save percentage against the Crunch in Round 1.
F PatricE Cormier: Had two goals against the Crunch.