Consolation prize

SCOTT FISHER -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 9:25 AM ET

They lost the battle but the Calgary Hitmen may have won the war.

Saturday's 2-1 loss in Red Deer ended Calgary's hopes of a first-place finish.

However, they're actually better off because of it.

The consolation prize is a first-round playoff rematch with the Lethbridge Hurricanes, who Calgary eliminated in five games last spring.

The Hitmen couldn't have hand-picked a more favourable matchup. Not that they'd ever admit it, of course. This is playoff time, afterall.

Calgary captain Brett Carson has been down this road before. He wasn't about to give the 'Canes any extra motivation.

"I don't know," Carson said. "They're both good teams.

"So whether it was Swift or Lethbridge, it'll be tough. It'll be a good series."

The numbers suggest otherwise. The Hitmen dominated Lethbridge this season, winning five of the six meetings, including Friday's 3-2 shootout victory.

Swift Current, which will face first-place Medicine Hat, and Calgary had identical 3-2-0-1 records against each other.

"We've played them pretty good but two of those games were shootouts," said Carson, who notched the shootout winner in a 1-0 victory Oct. 8.

"They've been pretty close games so I don't think it'll be any different in the playoffs."

But the bumbling Hurricanes couldn't possibly be any colder heading into the post-season. Lethbridge owns a pathetic .329 winning percentage since Jan. 1 (compared to Swift Current's .485) and have lost eight straight.

They haven't hit the win column since trimming Tri City 3-2 March 1.

"I watched (yesterday's) game," Carson said of the 'Canes 4-3 loss to Red Deer.

"But sometimes, at the end of the year, you start to slide. Some of the games are hard to get up for. They weren't really playing for anything (against the Rebels)."

The Hitmen have also experienced late-season struggles.

Heading into their ninth consecutive playoff appearance, they've posted just two wins in their final eight games.

"We've had a little slide of late, too," Carson said. "Both teams are looking to turn that around in the playoffs.

"Everyone knows we haven't come out and played a full 60 minutes. But with the intensity of the playoffs, I don't think that's going to be a problem."

Last year's first-round meeting marked the first time in WHL playoff history the two clubs had locked horns. The 'rivalry' had to be constructed from scratch.

There will be a little more animosity this time around. But, due to player turnover, the Central Division feud is still in its infancy.

Calgary has 12 players from last season returning for Round 2 while the 'Canes have just a half-dozen returnees from last spring's series.

"They've made a lot of deals," Carson said of the Hurricanes, who have added youth to their lineup through a number of deals.

"But there'll still be a bit of a rivalry just because of last year.

"Those six guys will probably let everyone know what it was like."

HIT PARADE: Despite having home-ice advantage, the Hitmen will be starting on the road due to the world figure skating championships being held at the 'Dome. Calgary will host Games 3, 4 and 5 next week ... LW Kris Deines sat out Saturday's regular-season finale with a sore thumb. He suffered the injury while pounding out a unanimous decision over Hurricanes anes LW Ryan Bryce. The overage enforcer is expected to be ready for Game 1.


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