After a troubling two-month stretch in December and January, the Coulee Region Chill were languishing on the periphery of the Midwest Division playoff picture. Once a Midwest Division-title contender, they found themselves scrambling — not for titles, but for postseason qualification.
But since mid-February, they've rediscovered their stride in a big way. In fact, Friday's 8-3 win over Springfield locked up their third consecutive playoff berth and their fifth in seven years.
Well done, boys. Now what?
The Chill still have three regular-season games to play, and need plenty of help to secure anything but the division's fourth and final seed. They could finish as high as third, but only if they win out, and only if the Minnesota Magicians are swept this weekend by the top-seeded Janesville Jets.
So what's left to do for Coulee Region?
Only one thing to do, really.
"We're just going to go out and play," Chill coach Ryan Egan said. "We've been playing well, and we don't want to take anything for granted. I would worry for what might happen if we took our foot off the gas a little bit.
"Our goal right now is to finish with as many points as we can and see where the cards may fall, because we know there's still a chance we could end up seeing Fairbanks, and there's a chance we'll end up seeing Janesville."
Both matchups would be tall orders for Coulee Region.
The Jets have had the Midwest Division title locked up for a while now, so if the Chill drop any points this weekend, they'll head to Janesville for Game 1 of their opening-round series. Coulee Region has defeated the Jets just three times in 11 games this season, and suffered seven losses in regulation.
But if the Chill somehow grab the No. 3 seed from Minnesota, they'll take on the defending Robertson Cup champion Ice Dogs, the league's second-hottest team, who won 13 of their last 14 games to cap the regular season.
Whoever they end up playing, Egan needs his players firing on all cylinders when the postseason arrives. For that to happen, maximum effort is required this weekend, no matter what is — or what is not — at stake.
"I don't think anything really changes in our approach," Chill forward Caleb Schroer said. "I mean, yeah, we want the third seed, but you can't play any different than you normally do. You have to be rolling, and you want to be playing your best hockey at the end of the year. So you just have to keep going every game like nothing else is different, just so you're playing the same kind of hockey going into the playoffs."