AMHERST – The Amherst CIBC Wood Gundy Ramblers have clinched a playoff spot and will likely finish no lower than third in the Eastlink South Divisions standings.
But, coach and general manager Jeff LeBlanc has his sights set on second-place and possibly, if a lot of things go right, even the first-place Yarmouth Mariners.
“Our goal going into the season was to finish first in the division and it could still happen. Saying that, we’d like to finish second and clinch home ice advantage in the first round,” LeBlanc said. “One of our biggest goals was also to finish better in the standings than last year. If we finish in third we’ll be one place better than last year and if we’re in second it’ll be two places.”
The Ramblers, coming off a 6-3 win over the Valley Wildcats on Saturday, return to action tonight when they travel to Miramichi to face the Timberwolves before coming home Saturday for their only matchup at the stadium against the Eastlink North leading Edmundston Blizzard.
Coming into the weekend, the Ramblers sit in third with a 24-9-12 record – two points up on third place South Shore and 10 points up on the Truro Bearcats, who clinched a playoff spot on Tuesday in New Glasgow.
The Ramblers are seven points back of Yarmouth with a game in hand, but have a tougher schedule remaining, including games against Campbellton, Truro and Pictou County to wrap up the season on March 10.
The playoffs begin March 15.
LeBlanc knows his team is up for a tough game in Miramichi, which Amherst defeated 5-2 on Heritage Day at the Amherst Stadium.
“The game we played against Miramichi a couple of weeks ago they played us very tough,” he said. “It was much closer than the score indicated and the scored on the power play. It’s something we have to keep in mind this time. We have to stay out of the (penalty) box.”
The Blizzard, like the Ramblers, have only lost nine times in regulation. Edmundston defeated the Ramblers twice in overtime. In both games, the Ramblers had third period leads before penalties allowed the Blizzard to rally late to force the extra frame.
“They are a very good team, well structured, with good defence, strong goaltending and a great forward corps,” he said. “The first time we played them we were up by three and gave up two power play goals in the last five minutes, while the second time we played them we were up 3-1 late in the third and they scored two power play goals to tie it up.”
LeBlanc said the penalty kill is much better than it was several months ago, but it’s an area he continues to focus on in practice in preparation for the playoffs.
On the injury front, Jordan Renaud is still out with an upper body injury and will not play this weekend. It’s possible he could play next Wednesday against Campbellton.