Even though the playoff war doesn't commence for another 11 days, the battle with Binghamton officially began last night at the Arena.
From the Skipjacks' point of view, the 7-1 thrashing of the Rangers is the one game that could set the tone for the almost inevitable upcoming playoff series between the two that would begin April 5 in Binghamton.
For the Rangers, it was a night to forget.
"It was a poor performance," Rangers coach John Paddock said. was a disgraceful, disgusting effort from my team. We were embarrassed."
It seems that no one on the Jacks' bench was held back from participating in the two-way assault.
Right wing John Purves, injured for part of the season and cold for much of the rest, managed a hat trick on goalie Sam St. Laurent and the Rangers.
Left wing Steve Maltais got his first goal in nearly a month.
Goalie Jim Hrivnak came just inches shy of another shutout, only allowing a misplayed Guy Larose wrist shot to pass him on the left.
Bobby Reynolds, acquired from Newmarket two weeks ago, finally landed his first goal at the Arena as a Skipjack after causing a plethora of damage in the building as a Saint.
The Jacks, who have had just eight short-handed goals all season, got two in less than 35 minutes last night. They also outshot the Rangers 15-1 in the first 18 minutes while grabbing a three-goal lead.
"We caught a team that was obviously a little tired, playing their fourth game in five nights," said Jacks coach Robbie Laird, whose team snapped a three-game losing streak at the Arena. "We also played well in every department and that made the score a little out of hand."
Appropriately enough, the Jacks and Rangers will battle one more time, next Sunday at Binghamton in the regular-season finale, before the playoff series begins the following Friday, April 5.
With the magic number at one for the Jacks to clinch third place and draw the Rangers, who firmly hold second place in the Southern Division, the tentative playoff schedule looks like this: Games 1 and 2 at Binghamton April 5 and 6; back to Baltimore for 3 and 4 on April 11 and 13; in Binghamton for Game 5 on Wednesday, April 17; back to Baltimore for Game 6 on Friday, April 19 and the final game would be at Broome County Coliseum on Saturday, April 20.
"They will become our rivals over the next month and beating them like this can only give us confidence," Purves said. "But it won't be this easy come playoff time."
Paddock concurred with Purves' assessment.
"There is too much time before the playoffs start," Paddock said. "I know it's a cliche but the playoffs are a whole new game. The regular season means absolutely nothing."
The Rangers coach said he expects at least "two or three different faces" when the playoffs begin and "up to as many as six."
Binghamton is without tough guy Tie Domi, center Corey Millen and defenseman Jeff Bluemberg, all in the NHL with the New York Rangers to spell injuries.
"I'm not taking anything away from Baltimore," Paddock said. "They are a skilled offensive team, with some great skaters and great scorers. But the team you'll see in a couple of weeks will be totally different. I promise you that."
In other off-the-ice news, the Skipjacks reportedly have agreed to another two years of affiliation with the Washington Capitals. It is expected to be officially announced during the first intermission of Friday's game at the Arena against Utica.