They need just a point to secure post-season berth as they finish up road trip with two games at Reading
The opportunity is probably coming a bit later than they expected, but the Newfoundland Growlers get a chance to clinch a playoff spot tonight.
The Growlers are in northeastern Pennsylvania to take on the Reading Royals in the first of back-to-back games, and all Newfoundland requires is a single point to ensure a place in the ECHL post-season. Even if the Growlers don’t win, they could still secure a playoff berth if the Brampton Beast and Worcester Railers, who also have games tonight, both lose in regulation.
But you forgive the Growlers for wanting to do this on their own dime, especially given their recent record. Newfoundland did win its last game, downing the Manchester Monarchs 5-1 Wednesday, but that came after a five-game losing streak, which may not have caused too much damage to the Growlers’ ability to claim a playoff spot, but certainly did lead to a delay.
With nine regular-season games remaining, Newfoundland is hankering to get a roll leading into the postseason.
Of course, the Growlers (40-19-4), who lead the ECHL’s North Division, want more than a place on the playoff dance floor. They want a spot as close to the band as possible, which in hockey terms, is as much home-ice advantage as they can get.
Newfoundland can actually gain home-ice advantage in the first round as early as tonight if they beat the Royals and the third-place Maine Mariners lose at Worcester. They could be assured of having a Game 7 scheduled at Mile One Centre through two rounds if they sweep the Royals (27-28-9) today and Saturday, and the Adirondack Thunder, who sit second in the North, lose at Brampton Saturday.
And the Growlers can aim even higher. There remains a mathematical, although unlikely, chance they could overtake the Florida Everblades for first place overall in the Eastern Conference. A more realistic target is second place overall in the conference.
For the first time this season, the Growlers’ roster includes three netminders on full-time contracts.
The latest addition to the goaltending corps is 19-year-old Zachary Bouthiliier, who was signed to an ECHL deal earlier this week and placed on Newfoundland's reserve list. Bouthillier, a seventh-round draft pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs last June, had been with the Saint John Sea Dogs, who failed to advance to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League playoffs.
Bouthillier, who turns 20 in November, could return to the QMJHL as an overager next season, but the move to sign him to an ECHL deal rather than an amateur tryout contract gives some indication the Leafs are at least considering having Bouthillier in their minor-league system next fall.
Signing him now him now allows Bouthillier to be included on a list of players who are contracted to the Growlers this season and whose ECHL rights could be maintained by Newfoundland for 2019-20.
Bouthillier will be third on the Growlers’ depth chart behind Eamon McAdam, who is in the final year of his entry-level NHL contract, and Michael Garteig, who is signed to an AHL deal.