Rail Yard Dawgs Clinch Playoff Spot Heading Into Home Stretch

Roanoke left wing Jeff Jones (#24 in white) sets up shop on the doorstep last weekend in Evansville as the Rail Yard Dawgs clinched a playoff spot for the second straight year.

Fans of the Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs will see playoff hockey for the second year in a row.

One night after being outscored 7-5 by the last place Evansville Thunderbolts at the Ford Center in Indiana, Roanoke rebounded for a 3-0 win on the shoulders of goalie Jacob Caffrey in the final game of an 11-game road trip. Caffrey made 24 saves, including 10 in the third period, for his first pro shutout in the pipes.
With the victory, Roanoke clinched its spot in the Southern Professional Hockey League’s  President’s Cup Playoffs, mathematically eliminating the ninth-place Quad City Storm from catching their 52 point total (24-22-4). Quad City (37 points with 6 games left) and Evansville (27 points) will be the two non qualifiers for playoff positions that go to the top 8 teams in the ten-team league.
Roanoke returns to the Berglund Center this weekend for games Friday against the Knoxville Ice Bears on NASCAR night, and Saturday versus Fayetteville with plenty still at stake to settle the final standings. It all leads up to the unique SPHL playoff format where the first three teams select who their opening round opponent will be from teams finishing 5th-8th.
Roanoke, currently in seventh place with six games remaining, only has a one-point lead over eighth-place Pensacola. Pensacola has one game in hand (7 games left) on Roanoke, but the Dawgs hold the trump card with two of those games being head-to-head matchups at the Berglund Center March 29-30 which will be Roanoke’s final two regular season home games before heading to Birmingham, Alabama to close the regular season April 5-6.
A hot hand in the final half-dozen for the Dawgs could easily present an opportunity to move up in the standings. Roanoke is within striking distance of the Macon Mayhem (55 points with 6 games left), Fayetteville (56 points with 6 games left), Knoxville (57 points with 7 games left) and, although a very long shot, Huntsville (63 points with 8 games left).
The Peoria Rivermen are in the driver’s seat to finish first, with an eight-point lead over second-place Birmingham. Both teams have 6 games left.
If Peoria holds on to first, it chooses first to pick its opponent for the best-of-three first round. Roanoke would appear likely to be the Rivermen’s target considering Peoria swept Roanoke in a three-games-in-three-nights series February 22-24 in Peoria, the only matchups between the two teams in the regular season. Should the Dawgs get hot in their final six games, Peoria could easily look elsewhere for their opening round opponent.
Bill Turner

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