Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Jets draw Flint to open NA3HL playoffs Thursday night


WATERFORD, Mich. – The North American 3 Hockey League playoffs begin this week for the Metro Jets, but there was a time just a few short weeks ago that playing in the post-season seemed like a pipe dream.

Battling the Toledo Cherokee for the fourth and final playoff spot in the East Division, the Jets had to sit and watch two weekends ago as the Cherokee lost three straight to Cleveland and Flint, setting up a two-game showdown last weekend.

With wins both nights, the Jets advance to play Flint, one of the top teams in all of the NA3HL, in the first round of the playoffs.

Friday night in Toledo, the two teams were tied late in the third period. With a loss or a tie, the Jets would have been eliminated.

Metro coach Justin Quenneville elected to pull goaltender Kam Limburg in the final minute and the move paid off as Brad Hepler scored to lift the Jets to a 3-2 win.

“It’s been our mentality here from Christmas on that this isn’t a regular season for us down the stretch – these are our playoffs,” Quenneville said. “We have had to play playoff hockey, so everyday we took that approach coming to the rink and how we prepared and it kept building as the season went on and realistically, took the same approach each day about how this was do or die for us each game. The players all bought in and I’m proud of them. They deserve this.”

Then Saturday night at Lakeland Arena, the Jets (22-24-2) were on a mission and dominated Toledo in a 5-0 win that officially clinched the final playoff berth.

Both Metro and Toledo finished the season with 46 points, but the Jets held the tiebreaker with more wins (22) than Toledo (20).

Limburg earned the win Saturday night with 16 saves for the shutout and looks to start Game 1 versus Flint.

“Yeah, not a bad time to get his first shutout of the season,” quipped Quenneville. “My policy all season has been if you win, you’re in. It’s made us more competitive in that area of our depth chart, so Kam deserves that opportunity and you talk about the right time for the first shutout of the year in the most important game, so I’m proud of him, but obviously, we need him to keep playing the same way and bring us the same effort.”

The first round against Flint is a best-of-three series starting Thursday night in Flint at Iceland Arenas (pictured) at 8 p.m., continuing Saturday afternoon at Lakeland at 3 p.m. and, if necessary, Sunday afternoon in Flint at 2 p.m.

Jets’ captain Zack MacKay said his team has confidence going into Flint.

“We’re ready for Flint – we’ve been playing playoff hockey the past six games or so,” MacKay said. “We’re going to be prepared. We’ve had good games there (Iceland) and the last game there, it was 1-1 until the third period and we’ve played some close games there.”

Flint, which won the East outright and posted a 42-4-2 record (second in all of the NA3HL to North Iowa), won all eight meetings this season against the Jets.

"Everyone starts at zeroes in the playoffs," Quenneville said. "We're excited about the opportunity to play them. We know it is going to be difficult, but that's how it should be. We are no longer playing for points or standings, just wins, plain and simple.

“Flint is a skilled and experienced team. They are well-coached and have had a lot of success during the season for a reason. We are excited about the matchup, but the key for us will be to stay focused and disciplined more than anything.”

All playoff games will be on www.fasthockey.com

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