|(Credit: Texas Stars)|
With Texas hanging on to the playoffs with a fourth seed right now, there are two teams with their sights set on jumping the Stars and claiming a postseason berth: the Stockton Heat and the San Antonio Rampage. The Heat seem like a more clear and present danger, as they are in fifth already. However, it's the San Antonio Rampage who should be giving the Stars heartburn in the next two weeks. It's a long shot, but here's why.
Weak Strength of Schedule
Take a look at the final six games for each of the contenders for the 4th seed.
Texas - STK, RFD, RFD, GR, @SA, SA
Stockton - @TEX, SJ, @SJ, ONT, @ONT, SJ
San Antonio - RFD, @CLE, @CLE, GR, TEX, @TEX
The strength of schedule delta for Stockton and Texas (.559 and .569) is drastically different than for the Rampage (.522). Granted that the two games against Cleveland (worst team in the league) are in Ohio and that the final three games form a three-in-three sequence, it's still a gift of scheduling. Stockton gets three games against last-place San Jose in their final six, which is their chance to jump Texas, but also have to play playoff worthy Ontario twice as well. The Stars have to play Stockton then playoff club Rockford before closing the season against Grand Rapids and San Antonio. That's a tough draw.
Overall Upward Swing
The Stars are coming home after a 1-2-1 performance on their road trip. San Antonio meanwhile has rattled off a 4-2 record in their last six and 6-3-1 in their last ten.
Head to Head Games
The AHL schedulers certainly made the last weekend of the season interesting. We could be looking at a two-game series between Texas and San Antonio to decide which team heads to the playoffs. The Rampage need to close the gap between the two teams (currently 5 points) to make this really matter. However, if Texas stumbles this week against Stockton and Rockford (or even just against Rockford), San Antonio could be basically tied with Texas at the last week's start. Those head to head games mean that Texas wouldn't be fighting a proxy war; this would be an actual war against their enemy in the fight.
Anyone who is a fan, especially of collegiate sports, knows that weird things happen in rivalry games. Don't discount that as a factor. Those final games will be the 15th and 16th times this season that Texas and San Antonio will have faced off, including preseason. Weird stuff happens.
But it could be over before it starts...
If Texas takes care of business against Stockton, their magic number dips to 5. Then, any combination of losses by Stockton and wins by Texas that yields five points will get them in. Wins against Rockford will put Stockton on the razor's edge. San Antonio is rooting for Rockford this week to give them a chance to jump Texas in the final week and steal a playoff spot from the Stars.