The Missouri Mavericks visit their version of the CHL's Evil Empire at 7:05 tonight when they take on the rival Wichita Thunder in another must-win contest at Intrust Bank Arena.
The Mavericks are tied with the Allen Americans for second place in the CHL with 54 points while Rapid City used a 2-1 victory over Denver earlier this week to climb to 56 points and take over sole possession of the top spot in the standings.
“But Rapid City has played one more game, so if we can get a win at Wichita Friday, we're back in a first-place tie,” said Hillman, whose team is 0-3-2 in its last five contests against the Thunder – who, if the season ended today, would not make the playoffs as they stand in ninth place.
“So we see this as a must-win game, and the boys are excited about the prospects of playing Wichita. Of those five losses, two have come in overtime shootouts, two have come by one-goal deficits and in the worst game we played this year we lost 8-6.
“We won the first two times we played the Thunder, and we have to get back to our winning ways. I've looked at those last five games, and a play here or there and it could have been a different outcome.”
Team captain Sebastien Thinel said something has to give when the Mavs travel to Wichita.
“We have had Tulsa's number (7-0 this season and 9-0 overall in the last nine games against the high-scoring Oilers), and Wichita has had our number,” Thinel said. “We play them close every time we play, and we just need to find a way to get a win.
“And we need a win Friday. We want to finish in first, and you can't leave points on the table at this point of the season. Scott has done a great job getting us prepared for the game and now, we have to go out and find a way to win.”
The Mavericks will have the winningest goalie in the league in the net tonight with Shane Owen, who sports a 21-9-1 record and 2.59 goals against average.
“I think we've really played well against Wichita this season, but you couldn't tell by looking at our record in the last five games,” Owen said. “We've had some bad bounces, some back luck – and Wichita has accounted for some of that bad luck. They play well against us.
“You look at the standings and can't believe they're in ninth place. You'd never think that, the way they play against us. We're due for a win, and this is a huge weekend with games at Wichita Friday and Sunday and the big home game against Allen on Saturday.
“We have to keep playing our best hockey of the season. If we could get six points this weekend it would be huge.”