Win, and they're in first place all alone. Lose, and the Admirals keep their grip on the West.
The Aeros have lost three straight in the season series and have played four one-goal games against Milwaukee. They are equal in many ways with a top-ten goalie on either side and enough offense to get the job done most nights. The Admirals have some of their top skilled guys either out or in Nashville (Blake Geoffrion, for example), and the Aeros will still be without Warren Peters, who is still in Minnesota.
A loss tonight won't kill them, but it will speak volumes about the team in general. It will prove they cannot beat the team directly in front of them in the standings. It will show the coaches and team officials that they have not been able to take advantage of a very fortuitous schedule and, quite frankly, it should make them doubt whether or not they are good enough to make the playoffs.
I think they win tonight. I think they play with the kind of desperation (and discipline) they need show in a playoff race that has not had an equal since the team joined the AHL in 2001.
The Aeros have 11 games left, and I think they need 94 points, maybe 95 to secure their right to play for the Calder Cup. That means they need to go 6-5, maybe 6-4-1, just to qualify. That kind of a record will send them on the road to start the playoffs. I'd love to see what they can do with home ice advantage for the first time since ... God, when was the last time they had home ice? 2006, I believe!
The teams behind them are not playing well, so even this minor slump of late has not cost the Aeros. Texas has fallen back, Peoria is depleted beyond belief and Chicago's defense is so leaky, well even Peoria with six or seven ECHLers stole two or three points from them last week. San Antonio, once the king of the division is three or four games below .500 since New Year's, and OKC has the most brutal closing schedule I have ever seen.
It is there for the taking. If the Aeros can't win six or seven of their last 11 games, they don't deserve to have home ice. If they cannot win tonight, they don't deserve to call themselves one of the best teams in the AHL.
If they can't beat Milwaukee tonight, everyone that following the Aeros will just end up hoping, praying that nobody makes a big run during the eight long days where they don't play.
Here is an update look at the playoff picture. Click on the image to see a larger version.