There may be 20 games left in the regular season, but Sunday's Guelph Storm win over Kitchener Rangers had a decided playoff vibe.
It was an intense, physical and at times chippy affair you often get in the post-season.
It was also a big 6-2 Storm win, moving them one point back of the sixth place Flint Firebirds.
"We're in the last third of the season here, and everyone's fighting to move up in the standings for a better playoff position. Obviously, the rivalry with Kitchener brings a higher level of intensity as well," said Storm coach Chad Wiseman.
"You talk about the habits and the details within the game, especially when we're up by three or four goals, to make sure you're doing the right things all the time. That's preparation for the playoffs," Wiseman said.
Kitchener came out well enough, outshooting the Storm 8-0 at one point.
But Brayden Gillespie was strong in the net and held the fort until the offence started finding ways.
The Storm came out in the opening 20 minutes, leading 2-0 on goalmouth goals by Valentin Zhugin and Ben McFarlane. Braeden Bowman and Payton Robinson made it 4-0 with goals in the opening five minutes of the second period, and the rout was on.
Bowman would finish with a pair of goals, and Max Namestnikov's highlight-reel tally in the third accounted for the other Guelph scoring. Matt Poitras finished with three assists.
"It was a group effort right down the lineup tonight," Wiseman said.
For Bowman, he now has 14 goals in 16 games since the holiday break.
"It always feels good to beat them," said Bowman, who now has a team-best 21 goals on the season.
He agreed the game had a playoff feel to it.
"It's good. You go out every shift with your head on a swivel, and you know it's going to be a physical one. Those Highway 7 rivalry games, you know, are going to be a bit chippy. Just go out, keep your head up and play smart," Bowman said.
"We came into this weekend knowing it was going to be a playoff-like two games. We wanted to play a playoff game, finishing checks, doing everything right. We want to keep doing that going forward."
Former Storm Danny Zhilkin had one of Kitchener's goals as they remain in eighth place, now five points back of Guelph.
The Storm is still missing Hunter Mackenzie and Jett Luchanko with injuries. Mackenzie could be back this coming weekend while Luchanko's return is still up in the air. Both are skating.
Guelph will host the Flint Firebirds Friday night, the London Knights Saturday night then play in Peterborough on Sunday afternoon.