GLENS FALLS -- When the AHL designed this year’s schedule, they couldn’t have hoped for a more delicious scenario involving the two local teams on the penultimate weekend of the season.
Adirondack and Albany both have a path to the playoffs. And it goes through one another. The Phantoms and the Devils play a home-and-home series starting Friday at the Civic Center.
The Phantoms go into the weekend needing to make up four points on eighth-place Manchester in the final six games. The Devils are one point back of the Phantoms with five games remaining on their schedule.
The Phantoms lead the season series 5-3, but that doesn’t quite reflect its closeness. Five of the games have been decided by one goal. Adirondack has won three in overtime.
“When you play a team a lot of times, like in the last couple of years, it makes for a lot of games and players get to know each other — and I’m not saying there’s grudges — but sometimes things carry over and you have hard games against them,” Phantoms coach Joe Paterson said. “They play hard. We want to play a hard game as well.”
The Phantoms come in playing better over their last 10 games. They had a three-game winning streak and a five-game point streak snapped in a shutout loss to Connecticut on Saturday.
Albany has just three wins in its last 10 games, including a 2-1 loss to Worcester on Wednesday night in a game that could have moved the Devils ahead of Adirondack in the standings.
“After (Wednesday) night, we are pretty much in a must-win situation against a team that is probably thinking along the same lines,” Albany coach Rick Kowalsky said. “It’s a challenge for us and it’s an opportunity for us to go out — and we talk about living in the present and in the now — it’s about just Friday.”
The Phantoms get a potentially key piece back this weekend as veteran defenseman Oskars Bartulis returns to the lineup for the first time since Feb. 14.
Injuries have limited Bartulis, who played most of the last two seasons with the Flyers, to 30 games this season. He has 10 points with the Phantoms and can inherit one of the point positions on the power play.
“Just his presence back there stabilizes things,” Paterson said. “He’s been solid for us before with moving the puck and taking care of his own end.”
Bartulis will likely replace another veteran defenseman, Matt Walker, who hasn’t practiced this week after missing Saturday’s game with an injury. Paterson wouldn’t rule Walker out for the entire weekend, but said he’s not likely to play all three games.
There are a few other lineup decisions that remain up in the air. Rookie forwards Garrett Roe and Tye McGinn, who have missed two and five games respectively, will be game-day decisions.
Roe has skated for the last two days; McGinn has been cleared to play but hasn’t returned to practice.
Their status may affect that of two newcomers. Nick Cousins, an 18-year-old center who signed last week, made his pro debut on Saturday.
Then there’s 23-year-old Matt Mangene, a forward out of Maine who signed an amateur tryout contract with the Phantoms this week after reaching an entry-level deal with the Flyers. Mangene, who just completed his third season with Maine, had 16 goals and 34 points in 40 games with 58 penalty minutes. He was listed as both a forward and defenseman in college, but is listed as a forward with Adirondack.
Paterson didn’t tip his hand about whether the new arrival would crack the lineup, though he did work with the power-play unit at the end of practice Thursday.
“We’ll take our lineup day-to-day,” Paterson said. “We’ll see what happens.”
Loose pucks: The Flyers returned goaltender Jason Bacashihua to the Phantoms on Wednesday. Brad Phillips, who had been backing up Leighton, will remain with the team since the season of his ECHL club in Trenton is over. … With the current roster expanding to 29 players because all of the amateur additions, the Phantoms held practice in two sessions on Thursday.