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Preview: IceRays @ Amarillo Bulls (Game 51)


Jackalopes Separate Themselves Last Weekend

To wrap up their eight-game home stand, the Icerays hosted the Odessa Jackalopes for the first time since the home opener last weekend. By taking all or a majority of the points from the series, they would have put themselves within striking distance of the Jacks for third place. However, they struggled against their Odessa rivals and would be cleanly swept at home for the first time all season.

The series started out with aplomb for the Rays, who scored twice in the first five and a half minutes on Friday night. But five straight Jackalopes strikes would seal their fate in game one. It appeared as though they were on track to win their sixth straight game two, but a late goal in regulation scored by Ricky Carballo ultimately proved to be the deciding factor. Odessa has now distanced itself to a seven-point edge on the Rays in the battle for third place, but the more pressing opponent will be on hand this weekend.

The Matchup

Tonight marks the beginning of a four-game battle between the IceRays and the Amarillo Bulls. They will square off this weekend at the Bull Pen and return to the American Bank Center for games three and four on March 16-17. Without question, this four-game stretch could determine which of these teams makes the playoffs.

Corpus Christi has an enormous advantage. They have a nine-point lead over Amarillo and will play six of their remaining ten games at home. On the contrary, the Bulls only have one home series left on their schedule after this weekend, and they have to travel to Odessa immediately after this series to battle the Jackalopes on Sunday. Despite the odds being against them, the Bulls realize they’ve caused the IceRays problems at times this season. The Rays’ head-to-head record against them is a middling 4-3-1. Moreover, Amarillo was the only team to have shut out the Rays in back-to-back games this season, and was the first team to do it since February 22nd, 2014.

Both sides are coming off of a disappointing weekend, with Amarillo being swept in Topeka and the Rays being swept by Odessa. They are both hungry, and the next two weeks will provide a perfect opportunity for them to satisfy their appetite. The Bulls will be looking to defy all odds and leapfrog into the postseason, while the Rays will be looking to put them away and secure a playoff berth once and for all.

Who to Watch

Larry Jungwirth has been on a bit of a dry spell lately, having cooled down right before the trade deadline. He’s not scored since January 19th, but he still leads the team in points against Amarillo this season by a substantial margin (3 G, 6 A, 9 P, +4). A player like Jungwirth, who led the league in goals and looked virtually unstoppable at one point this season, will not remain cold forever. He’s played well against the Bulls this season, and this may be the weekend in which he turns it around.

As for Amarillo, Austin O’Rourke has matched Jungwirth’s point total in head-to-head matchups and had an assist in each game the last time these teams met. He and recently committed Quinnipiac defenseman Marcus Chorney will be worth keeping an eye on this weekend.

Grande Especial

There’s little doubt the IceRays will be seeing a lot of Jason Grande the next four games. He has posted decent overall numbers this season, but against the IceRays, he has been dominant. His save percentage of .911 has paled in comparison to the .941 he’s pitched in seven games played against Corpus Christi. He is Amarillo’s undisputed #1 and he’s their only goaltender to have won a game against them this season. Both IceRays net-minders have been solid against Amarillo, with Chad Veltri at 3-2-1, .929 SV% and a 2.51 goals against average, and Acton at 1-1-0, a .933 SV% and a 2.50 GAA.