The Baltimore Skipjacks met the Utica Devils in the right place at the wrong time last night.
"We were aware of their situation and how they play in this building, but we didn't respond," Skipjacks coach Rob Laird said after the Devils, fighting for their postseason lives, rallied for a 7-6 overtime victory over Baltimore at the Utica Memorial Auditorium.
The Skipjacks had won their two previous games at the Aud, but this time they were facing a Utica team on the brink of playoff elimination.
"They looked like they were desperate for a win," said Laird, whose Skipjacks lost 3-2, 4-3, 5-4 and 6-5 leads in the third period and then lost the game when rookie Jarrod Skalde scored just 34 seconds into overtime.
Five times the Skipjacks, assured of a berth in the American Hockey League's Southern Division playoffs, held a one-goal lead. And five times the Devils responded.
Utica's Mike Bodnarchuk capped a seven-goal third period when he poked a loose puck past Skipjacks goaltender Shawn Simpson with 2 minutes, 12 seconds left in regulation.
Skalde, making his AHL debut less than 24 hours after his Canadian junior team was eliminated from the Ontario Hockey League playoffs, then brought the crowd of 2,468 to its feet when he lifted his own rebound over Simpson.
It was the last home game of the regular season for the sixth-place Devils (36-40-2). Baltimore (37-33-7) clinched third place in the South despite the loss. The Devils remained one point out of a playoff spot because the Hershey Bears edged the Adirondack Red Wings, 4-3, but the fourth-place Red Wings now lead the Bears by just one point and Utica by two. The Skipjacks will meet Binghamton in the playoffs.
All three of the teams battling for fourth and fifth have two games remaining. The Devils play in Baltimore tomorrow and in New Haven on Sunday.
Skalde, who also had an assist, started the game centering a line with Bodnarchuk and Brian Martin -- who scored twice -- as his wingers. But he also played several late shifts as a left wing alongside center Kevin Todd and right wing Jeff Madill.
Todd, the AHL scoring leader, had two assists, and Madill collected a goal and three assists. Jeff Christian and Mike Posmas also scored for the Devils, and Utica goalie Mark Romaine made 28 saves.
Baltimore got two goals each from Tim Taylor and Bobby Reynolds. Reggie Savage and John Purves scored third-period goals, and Simpson made 24 saves.
Savage's goal from just inside the blue line broke a 3-3 tie, but Madill scored his team-high 41st goal on a breakaway backhander, and Christian deflected Dave Marcinyshyn's pass by Simpson to give Utica its first lead, 5-4, with 10:02 left in the third period.