The fourth-place Johnstown Tomahawks need one point this weekend to secure a Robertson Cup playoff berth.
But the second-year NAHL team wants much more as it visits a surging Janesville Jets squad tonight and Saturday in the final two games of the regular season.
“Right now we’re trying to enter the playoffs on a high. To get into the playoffs we have to play well (tonight),” said Tomahawks defenseman Mitch Hall, who was the NAHL’s North Division star last weekend. “It’s in our hands right now. Our focus is on (tonight) and getting those two points.”
The top four teams in the North advance to the playoffs.
Depending on this weekend’s results, the Tomahawks could finish third, fourth or fifth and out of the playoffs.
Johnstown (28-25-5) has 61 points, three behind third-place Janesville (30-24-4) and three in front of fifth-place Springfield (25-25-8, 58).
Springfield visits last-place Soo (24-26-8, 56) for two games.
With two regulation wins, Johnstown would leap-frog Janesville into third place.
With two regulation losses combined with two Springfield wins, the Tomahawks would miss the postseason.
“We’re three points up on Springfield, and they play in Soo this weekend,” Johnstown coach Jason Spence said. “If there is a tie, we’d have the tiebreaker. We need one point but we want to win (tonight) and work on winning Saturday night going into the playoffs.”
Janesville beat the Tomahawks 2-0 and 2-1 in two games at Cambria County War Memorial Arena on March 7-8.
“We’re going to really have to dig deep and make sure we find our game and play a solid defensive game against Janesville,” said Johnstown forward Trevor Recktenwald, who has 10 goals and 20 points this season. “We have to bring a high level of physicality. They’re a physical team and we can’t let them push us around.”
The Tomahawks also enter this pivotal weekend facing uncertainty in net. Veteran Alex Okicki, with 21 wins, didn’t play on Sunday because of an injury.
“He practiced (Thursday),” Spence said. “It will be more of a game-time decision.”
Okicki has four shutouts, a 2.54 goals against average and .918 save percentage.
Johnstown’s other goalie, Brett Young, is 0-3-1 with a 5.07 goals against average and .868 save percentage.
“Our confidence is the same no matter what,” Recktenwald said. “Brett hasn’t played a lot of games this season but he’s showed what he can do in practice and in the games. We have full confidence in him and in Alex.”
Janesville’s goaltender tandem of Logan Halladay (17-8-2, 2.31, .931) and Brock Kautz (13-15-1, 2.95, .916) have combined for 30 wins.
“We’ve got to take the play to them and play our game,” said Hall, who has 37 assists, 43 points and a plus-16 rating. “We’re going into this weekend like we do every weekend and hopefully get four points.”
Even though the Tomahawks lost 4-3 to Soo on Sunday, Johnstown is coming off an important weekend in which the team won two of three after snapping a seven-game losing streak.
“It’s huge. It gave us confidence,” Hall said. “Our players are playing our best hockey. We’re firing the puck at the net and I think we’re going to be able to keep that going.”
The Tomahawks beat Soo 6-3 Friday and won 4-3 in a shootout on Saturday. Johnstown fell behind 3-0 on Sunday, came back and tied the game, but fell short.
“It was a huge deal because we were coming off that seven-game losing streak,” Recktenwald said. “That got a lot of confidence into the guys especially when we scored six goals on Friday night. Once we figured out that all of us were capable of putting the puck in the net and getting things done it, brought a lot of confidence back to the team.”
Mike Mastovich is a sports writer for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/masty81.