The Calgary Hitmen won their biggest games of the season last weekend.
Their reward? Even bigger games against even tougher opponents.
That’s going to be the case going forward for the Hitmen as they enter the final four games of their Western Hockey League regular season on a quest.
The playoffs are within their grasp. They control their own destiny despite sitting one point back of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
But there’s absolutely no room for error, and the opponents aren’t easy.
First up is the seventh-place Hurricanes on Saturday in Lethbridge (7 p.m.). Technically, that’s a team the Hitmen can still catch in the standings — with four games left on the schedule, the Hitmen are six points back of the ‘Canes.
Then, on Sunday at the Scotiabank Saddledome (2 p.m.), it’s the powerhouse Edmonton Oil Kings.
“There’s not going to be a lot of ‘We’ll get them back’ or ‘There’s more opportunities ahead’, “ said Hitmen head coach Steve Hamilton. “What we have is four games and you look at the standings and see the importance.”
Even a week ago, it seemed unlikely that the Hitmen would still be playing for anything other than pride, but they’ve managed to claw their way back into the playoff conversation with a well-timed three-game win streak.
Two of those ‘W’s came against the eighth-place Swift Current Broncos last weekend. Those victories changed the complexion of their stretch run.
The Broncos are now sitting on 59 points with two games remaining in their regular season. The Hitmen are one point back, with 58, but have two games in hand.
Again, that gives them basically no room for error — at all — but if you were handicapping the race, you’d probably give the Hitmen better odds of making the playoffs than the Broncos at this point.
That doesn’t actually mean anything, though. What matters is winning.
“Staying in the moment, take it game-by-game,” Hitmen defenceman Tyson Galloway said. “We’ve got a pretty resilient group in there, and we’ve been through quite a bit, and we’re just going to keep grinding.”
The Hitmen will round out their schedule with home games against the third-place Red Deer Rebels on April 13 and then one last matchup with the Hurricanes on April 17.
Win three of the last four and they’re guaranteed to make the playoffs no matter what the Broncos do. It’s entirely possible that splitting their final four games will be enough to get the Hitmen into the post-season, too, although that would require the struggling Broncos to drop one of their final two games.
Ideally, the Hitmen would love to keep their recent hot streak going and go into the playoffs on a high. This hasn’t been an easy season, and the last two months in particular have been difficult as the WHL schedule sent them on longer-than-usual road trips.
But they’re in the fight.
“We’ve hung around enough to make the last four games matter,” Hamilton said.