Playoff poison on the menu?

SCOTT FISHER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:51 AM ET

It's like heads, they win, tails, you're gonna lose.

It's not just a line from Poison's Fallen Angel.

It's also the situation facing both the Calgary Hitmen and Red Deer Rebels, who meet at the 'Dome tonight (7 p.m.).

The two Central Division rivals have battled most of the season to not only qualify for the playoffs but avoid fourth place and a first-round matchup with the powerhouse Medicine Hat Tigers.

With Sunday's win over Saskatoon, the Hitmen accomplished that goal by securing third place.

Their 'reward?' A seven-game set with the Kootenay Ice.

Not exactly the kind of perk they had in mind.

"No, definitely not," says GM/head coach Kelly Kisio.

"You draw either one, you're in some trouble. It's a tough road and it's going to be a battle."

While the Rebels face the unenviable task of trying to topple Medicine Hat, the top-ranked junior team in the country, the Hitmen aren't exactly doing cartwheels over the prospect of facing the Ice, rated the CHL's sixth-best club.

Overage forward Steve Covington, who may have scored the most spectacular goal of his five-year career with an unassisted, shorthanded beauty Sunday afternoon against Saskatoon, says his squad faces an uphill battle.

"Whether we had to play Medicine Hat or Kootenay, it was going to be a tough series," the 20-year-old winger says. "We're building towards playing Kootenay and hopefully we keep rolling into the playoffs. It's going to be a tough battle.

"We're excited, we've done well against Kootenay and anything can happen in the playoffs.

"Look at the NHL the last couple of years. It seems it's always an underdog that goes to the Stanley Cup finals."

The Hitmen are 2-4-1-0 against Kootenay this season, with one game still to be played. The two clubs will hook up Friday in Cranbrook for a first-round preview.

"We've had great games with them all year. They owned us once in (the 'Dome), they embarrassed us," Kisio said of an 8-4 spanking Oct. 6.

"They're a very good hockey club. They don't have any superstars, just a bunch of solid guys who are well coached."

Four of the seven games have been decided by a single goal.

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FIRST UP ...

EASTERN CONFERENCE

QUARTER-FINAL

(BEST-OF-SEVEN SERIES)

Friday, March 23: At Cranbrook, 7 p.m.

Saturday, March 24: At Cranbrook, 7 p.m.

Wednesday, March 28: At Saddledome, 7 p.m.

Thursday, March 28: At Saddledome, 7 p.m.

x-Saturday, March 31: At Cranbrook, 7 p.m.

x-Monday, April 2: At Saddledome, 7 p.m.

x-Wednesday, April 4: At Cranbrook, 7 p.m.

x - if necessary


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