Utica, N.Y. - The Utica Comets' playoff outlook has continued to grow more bleak with each passing day, but the team isn't giving up fighting for a spot, no matter how dire their situation may seem.
"We don't have a choice, we have to stay positive here, we're still only four points out, it's very doable," said the team's leading scorer, Reid Boucher, Tuesday, following an optional practice. "We just have to keep pushing forward and keep trying to get points. We know the job we have to do, it's just a matter of going out and executing the game plan."
The team rallied from a deficit to beat the Laval Rocket 2-1 in a shootout last Friday night to end an eight-game losing streak.
"It always feel good after a win," Boucher said. "But it's one of those things where you enjoy the win for the night. You wake up in the morning and it's a new day and a new challenge."
The next night, the Comets fell 6-2 to the Syracuse Crunch on the road, despite outshooting their rivals 34-23.
In the game, Utica went 0-for-5 on the power play, while giving up two power play goals and two shorthanded goals. The special teams battle is something the team is hyper focused on in these last few games while they fight for their playoff lives (four points out with eight games to go).
"[Special teams] win games in this league," said Boucher. "We're going to have to work on that a little bit this week and make sure we're ready to go out and execute."
Injuries and call-ups haven't helped the Comets in that regard either. In the most important part of the regular season, the team has seen many top players suffer injuries, some season-ending, and have had many other top players recalled for the remainder of the year by the Vancouver Canucks.
"We've been struggling with trying to find the right recipe, specifically on our blue line," said head coach, Trent Cull. "Unfortunately we've lost [Olli] Juolevi, we've lost [Evan] McEneny, we've lost different guys so it's not the situation you want to be in...that hurts"
The Comets have outshot their opponents in each of the last 11 games, but despite that, they've gone 2-8-1, only earning three points in the standings throughout the month of March.
"We work hard at our jobs, we're trying to get guys better," said Cull about the coaching staff. "It's frustrating to have a spot where you want to be and have it, I guess, slip away from you."
Boucher echoed the sentiment from the players' perspective.
"It hasn't been fun lately, it's tough when you're sitting in a good spot in the playoffs a couple weeks ago and then all of the sudden, you're on the outside looking in," he said. "We've just got to put our nose to the grindstone here and find a way to get wins."
Despite the results on the ice the last month, Cull said that there are some positives to be taken away from this experience. These positives are most notable when discussing the team's role as the farm club for an NHL franchise.
"We've had a lot of guys go play in the NHL," he said. "We've got three of our defensemen sitting there playing every night in Vancouver.
"Some guys are having some career years, so it's not all doom and gloom that's for sure, but it is frustrating because we're all here to get to the playoffs."
One thing that the Comets have built in their nearly six full seasons in Utica is a culture of hard-nosed and high-energy play. The team said that as long as the players have the opportunity to lace up skates before the final buzzer of the year, whenever that may be, that identity won't change.
"Guys are in here trying to earn jobs for next year so we should get nothing but the best from everybody," said Boucher. "Guys that have been here are pushing for a playoff spot, that's what you play the whole regular season for. So [we] shouldn't be low on effort around here."
The Comets take on currently playoff-bound teams in six of their last eight games, including two against north division rival, Toronto Marlies and two against archrival, Syracuse Crunch.
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