HERSHEY, Pa. -- The final quarter of the season began last night with a loss and the Skipjacks have realized for the first time that their mediocre play is becoming a serious problem in the standings.
For the first time this season many in the Jacks' locker room felt the fear of not being a part of the AHL playoffs at the end of next month.
"It's probably the first time I've been able to say this so far this season but it's do or die," said Jacks coach Robbie Laird, whose third-place team is 4-5-1 in February. "We need to do something this weekend or we're going to be in trouble."
On the heels of a 3-2 loss at the Hersheypark Arena last night, the Jacks will continue on the road to face first-place Rochester tomorrow and second-place Binghamton on Saturday.
"Losing these [Southern] division games is killing us," said left wing Tyler Larter, who scored the Jacks' first goal. "Every time we lose it's like losing four points. Instead of being 10 points up on Hershey now we're six."
Indeed, the fifth-place Bears (60 points) are closing in on the Jacks (66 points) as fourth-place Adirondack (62 points) inches even closer.
"Our goal all season has been to finish in first place, but if we lose in Rochester it's going to be pretty hard coming back from 12 points down," Larter said. "We've got to turn it around now."
Many of the Jacks spoke of the schedule being a foe for the next five weeks.
"We play 13 of our last 20 on the road and we certainly didn't get off to a great start," said left wing Steve Seftel.
Last night the Jacks got off to what has become an all-too-familiar start, allowing the Bears to grab a 3-1 lead on a pair of goals by veteran Tim Tookey and one from Mark Freer. By the time the Jacks got going, midway through the second period, it was too late.
The Bears, led by strong defensive efforts from Shaun Sabol and Darren Rumble and great goaltending from Marc D'Amour, clamped down on the Jacks with nary a threat. Alfie Turcotte was the only other Skipjack to beat D'Amour, with 5:43 remaining in the second period.
"I had a talk with some players individually about playing a strong game for 60 minutes and we didn't do that," Laird said. "I said we needed to start the game with more intensity and take the play to them, especially playing on the road. It really bothers me that we aren't getting off to a good start in a lot of games."