The Langley Rivermen will enter the 2013 B.C. Hockey League post-season with a losing record and on a two-game winless skid.
The Chilliwack Chiefs made sure of that, after sweeping the 'Men in the final two games of their BCHL season.
The losses drop Langley's record to 24-26-1-5 to finish the campaign.
The previous weekend, the Rivermen clinched the fourth and final playoff spot in the five-team, BCHL Mainland Division.
The 'Men will look to put their last two games of the campaign - a 5-2 loss Thursday at the Langley Events Centre and a 5-1 defeat Saturday at the Prospera Centre in Chilliwack - behind them as they gear up to play the Mainland Division kings, the Surrey Eagles, in the opening round of the playoffs.
Langley captain Logan Smith, who was rested for Saturday night's game in Chilliwack, said the letdown was somewhat natural after a near season-long fight to earn a playoff spot.
"A lot of guys were pushing through to the end of the season, and it's been a long season," Smith said. "All season we've been pushing to make playoffs, and after all the playoffs spots were locked up in our division, it was difficult, even though it's not difficult to get up for a team like Chilliwack. They're a big rival."
Chiefs 5, Rivermen 1
The 'Men entered their final contest minus their captain, as well as their top scorer.
Smith and Mario Puskarich, who finished the year on top of the league in goals (41) and points (89), sat out so they could rest up for the upcoming best-of-five playoff series against the Eagles.
Minus those two key cogs, it was a tough night all around for the Rivermen, who lost by four goals.
"It was just one of those nights," Rivermen head coach Bobby Henderson said. "It wasn't a great night for us but it is what it is. They [referring to Saturday's setback and Thursday's loss to the Chiefs on home ice] were mean-nothing games and we played like it."
In the first period, the Chiefs came out firing on all cylinders. They pressured Langley in the opening minutes and were rewarded with an early goal just before the three-minute mark of the frame off the stick of Eric Roberts.
Langley started to find its form after the tally, but gave up a power play goal from Alex Perron-Fontaine with under six minutes to go and was down a pair after 20 minutes.
The Chiefs got on the board early in the second period on a goal from Mathieu Tibbett.
With Langley on the power play past the seven minute mark, the Chiefs' Josh Hansen notched a shorthanded goal to make it 4-0.
Shortly after the 'Men got on the board courtesy of Turner Popoff.
The veteran blueliner took a feed from Matt Ustaski at the right point and fired a shot through traffic that beat Gillam top corner on the blocker side. For Popoff it was his second of the season and first in a Rivermen uniform.
The 4-1 lead was short lived as Chilliwack's Brodyn Nielsen scored right off the ensuing face off.
The third period would have no goals scored between either team and the game would end 5-1 in Chilliwack's favour.
The Chiefs outshot the Rivermen 45-36 and takes the season series 5-3.
Chiefs 5, Rivermen 2
With a playoff spot in their pocket, the Rivermen hosted the Chiefs at the Langley Events Centre Thursday night.
It was the Rivermen's last home game of the regular season and they looked to build upon their stellar home record of 15-8-1-2.
By the final buzzer, the 'Men had suffered their ninth loss of the season on home ice.
"I thought we played decent, but we just couldn't get anything going offensively," Henderson said. "All in all, things weren't clicking."
James Barr got the start for Langley between the pipes, while Josh Halpenny got the call for Chilliwack.
The Chiefs got on the board just past the five-minute mark with a shorthanded goal by Ryan Donohoe, who scored on a pretty backhand shot to open the scoring.
Minutes later, Langley made good on their next power play opportunity. Evan Campbell took a pass from Puskarich and then found Mark Whiteley in the crease. Whitely was able to backhand home his seventh goal of the season. With the assist, Puskarich extended his point streak to 10 games.
The Chiefs took over in the second frame. Donohoe notched his second of the game just before the four-minute mark. This time it was on the power play off a rebound from Barr.
Derek Sutliffe had a chance to tie it as he was awarded a penalty shot after being hauled down on a breakaway. The Las Vegas product was stopped by Halpenny to keep it a 2-1 game.
With fewer than two minutes to go in the frame, Zielonka put away his 36th goal of the season as he pounced on a rebound from an Austin Plevy shot.
The Chiefs were not done, as Spencer Graboski capitalized on a Langley turnover with just 22 seconds left in the period.
With Langley down three goals going into the final period, Hogg entered the net in relief of Barr.
The move sparked the Rivermen as Campbell scored his 20th goal of the campaign at the 2:52 mark. James Robinson made a perfect pass from the corner to a wide-open Campbell in the slot. He was denied on his first shot, but not the rebound to make it a two-goal game.
With under than 10 minutes to play, Donohoe scored his hat trick goal - and shorthanded once again - to put the game away at 5-2.
Full marks to the Chiefs who played a complete game in front of 1,834 fans on fan appreciation night.
After playing Friday and Saturday at South Surrey Arena (both with 7:15 p.m. start times), the Rivermen and Eagles will be at the Langley Events Centre on Monday (March 18) for game three of the series. Game four, if necessary, is scheduled for Tuesday at the LEC.
Opening puck drops at the LEC is 7:15 p.m. both Monday and Tuesday.
The Eagles topped not only the Mainland Division, but the entire BCHL with a 35-13-3-5 record.
They were 24 points ahead of of the 'Men by season's end, and owned the season series, winning seven of eight match-ups between the teams.
"Confidence wise, the biggest thing right now is the belief we can beat them," Smith said. "Surrey is a very good team. They have two top-end players in Adam Tambellini and Brady Shaw, but most concerning for our team is going to be their goaltending. He [Eagles' starting netminder Michael Santaguida] is a very good goaltender and he plays the puck well. That will be our biggest challenge."
Starting Friday, Henderson said, it's a clean slate going into the playoffs.
The last two games of the season and the team's abysmal record against Surrey_ those two elements will swirl away into the ether come playoff time.
"It reminds me of the Babe Ruth quote, 'Yesterday's home runs don't win today's games,'" Henderson said.
Henderson knows what the Rivermen have to do to upset the Eagles: "We just need to be tough defensively. We need to keep them to the outside, do a good job of clogging up the middle, and make them work for everything they get."
Henderson said the Rivermen relish the underdog role.
"I'm sure that Surrey is not going to take us lightly and [the Eagles] will have respect for our team. They're going to play hard," Henderson said. "That's the great part of the playoffs. Anything can happen in a playoff series."