On the same night the Nashville Predators claimed their second consecutive Central Division championship at Bridgestone Arena, the Milwaukee Admirals, their American Hockey League affiliate, stretched their winning streak to eight games with a 5-1 win over the Iowa Wild.
Ahead of the Wild and the Manitoba Moose by two points, the Admirals currently sit third in the AHL's Central Division in a highly sought-after playoff position.
"I would say the group has just played with more maturity and more consistency, sticking to our systems longer," Ads Head Coach Karl Taylor said. "And I would also say there's a good level of desperation in our group in recognizing that this is the situation we're in."
After posting a 1-5-5 record in February, Milwaukee knew they would need to adjust their mindset and group effort moving forward if they wanted to see the postseason.
"We had a tough stretch in February and we kind of put ourselves in a bad position, but we just thought we have a good group of guys here and we want to make a long run, so we might as well make the season a good one," Milwaukee defenseman Alexandre Carrier said. "We started to work together more and be more efficient at working together and following the plan and it just worked out."
The Admirals improved their record to 8-2-3 in March, and began the win streak with a key three-game weekend series against the Rockford IceHogs, which coincided with the Ads Fathers Weekend.
"You look back, and it was awesome to see some of the stories we got to share," Ads forward Colin Blackwell said. "We had 19 different fathers that came down, so it was one of those things where you got to put a name to a face and see the family and learn a little bit about each of the players and hear the stories. Some of the fathers were coaches at one point, so I think not only getting a little bit closer to some of the families but also learning a little bit about one another opened up some eyes for a lot of us. And also, when your dad's in the stands - you know, a lot of them were coaches for us growing up, and all the sacrifices they made gave us a little bit of a boost."
For the most part, the eight-straight games came from a larger team effort and veteran leadership that has carried through the entire Admirals squad.
"I would say it's been more of a collective effort but there's no question we're following our leaders - Jarred Tinordi, Matt Donovan, Cole Schneider, Blackwell, Carrier. All the guys in our leadership group have done a very good job of establishing what we're doing here and where we want to go and you're seeing growth in our younger players," Taylor said. "We're a four-line team, we like to play everyone consistently, so we have a lot of depth and we have a lot of similar lines, so it's not like we have a checking line or an energy line, we have very similar lines top to bottom. So I'd say it's more of a collective group effort."
The presence of Predators forwards Austin Watson, Miikka Salomaki and Zac Rinaldo also provided the Ads with some key leadership and insight during the team's playoff push.
"The guys like Watson and Rinaldo and Salty - we saw those guys come down and show some of the young guys and guys in the AHL what it's like to be professional every single day," Blackwell said. "And not just off the ice but on the ice, you see how hard those guys work. I think it made a lot of guys hungry as well, and I think that was really good for our club."
Blackwell also spoke to the effectiveness of the team focusing on the smaller details of their game.
"So many little details are so important this time of year. I think as a team we were a little too complacent staying to the outside, and now we're getting to those dirty areas and finding those gritty goals," Blackwell said. "And it's just kind of this confidence our team has come across in the last couple weeks here, knowing that going into all these games we do what we're capable of doing, playing the right way and playing to our identity and I think we're going to be successful and I think everybody across the board knows that and knows what's at stake here."
For Taylor, the most important thing for the team moving forward is to maintain the same mentality and to not become complacent with a winning streak.
"I would say we have to continually keep the "PHD" attitude - the poor, hungry and driven attitude. When you get on a good win streak you tend to look around a little bit and sometimes you might hope it gets easier, you might hope it's just going to happen for you," Taylor said. "There's a reason we're winning these games, and we've had this run this time of the year, but this is a hard time to win a hockey game so it makes it a little more special."
With so much at stake and the postseason just around the corner, the Ads have already adopted the necessary playoff mentality.
"It's do or die for us. We've been playing with this playoff intensity, and it's what's been the message across the room. We control our own destiny, so we're not too worried about what other guys and other teams are doing across the league," Blackwell said. "It's just one of those things where we've got a job to do, and we've got to take care of business. We've been playing the right way, and we're getting rewarded for it. I think if we continue to do that, we're going to be successful."