Yogi Berra once quipped, “It ain’t over til it’s over.”
Tuesday night at the Berglund Center, the Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs, backed deep into the proverbial corner, made sure their playoff hopes aren’t over quite yet.
Despite facing a Sisyphus-like obstacle, Roanoke made sure the visiting Columbus Cottonmouths wouldn’t be celebrating securing a playoff spot on the Dawgs home pond.
The math decidedly favored the Cottonmouths for the eighth, and final, playoff spot for the Southern Professional Hockey League playoffs.
Columbus led the Dawgs by 5 points with three games remaining. With the playoff tiebreaker already in the Cottonmouth’s corner based on total regular season wins, Roanoke needed to win its final three games while Columbus has to lose its final three, plus not get any of their three to an overtime. Even one point for an OT loss will be enough to send the snakes to the final playoff spot.
Tuesday night, the two teams battled to a 0-0 tie through two periods. Roanoke knew the final 20 minutes would be do-or-die.
The Dawgs broke the ice early in the third when Zach Tatrn scored on a redirect past Columbus goalie Spencer Bacon to put Roanoke up 1-0. Five minutes later, Dmytro Babenko gathered a loose puck in front of Bacon and banked a shot off a Cottonmouth defender into the Columbus goal, giving the Dawgs a little breathing room at 2-0.
Columbus, as it had done twice last weekend in a pair of crippling wins over the Dawgs at the Berglund Center, reared its head on a Chad Brears goal with just under 5 minutes left to cut the Roanoke lead to 2-1.
Roanoke, however, held off Columbus down the stretch as the snakes pulled Bacon for an extra attacker. Roanoke goalie Ty Reichenbach made 37 saves on 38 shots to record his first professional win.
Roanoke now heads to first-place Macon for a pair of games Friday and Saturday, needing to win both. Columbus finishes the season with two at last-place Evansville, still needing one point to take the last playoff spot.
There may be one silver lining. Evansville, long eliminated for a playoff spot, will be looking at these two home finales as their playoff games. Roanoke will need that help.
It ain’t over til it’s over.