It's the time of year where every game starts to take on that playoff vibe.
So Guelph Storm coach George Burnett wants to know why his team played such an uninspired game against the Erie Otters Wednesday at the Sleeman Centre.
"Well, if that's our playoff effort it's not going to be a long playoff season for us," said a clearly disappointed Burnett after falling 4-2 to the Otters.
"To play with the lack of energy that we saw most of the night ... the way we managed the puck ... our turnovers ... they outnumbered us in pretty much every situation tonight and were a much hungrier team than we were."
The eighth-place Otters are now just two points back of the sixth-place Storm, with the Owen Sound Attack sandwiched in between.
With 20 games left in the regular season and most of its remaining game against Western Conference foes, it's going to be tough sledding. Guelph is eight points out of home ice for the opening round of the playoffs and five points back ninth place and no home or away playoff dates.
Guelph visits ninth-place Sault Ste. Marie on Friday.
"It was a little surprising to me," Burnett said of what transpired Wednesday. "We weren't very good without the puck tonight at all.
"We need those guys that have played in these situations before and who have played in the playoffs, we need those guys to elevate their level of intensity. There aren't many nights where we've looked at our big guys and said they haven't led our team but I think they didn't lead us in the right way tonight," Burnett said.
The Storm didn't start out too badly.
They were up 2-1 after 20 minutes on goals by Cedric Ralph, on the power play, and Pavel Gogolev, his 36th of the year.
But then the Otters took over.
Storm turnovers, Erie's ability to control the puck down low and break out of its own zone on odd-man rushes were the story the rest of the way.
Goals by Connor Lockhart and Jacob Golden 39 seconds apart late in the second period gave the visitors the lead they probably deserved.
Chad Yetman's empty netter iced the game with under a minute to go in regulation.
"We've got to play well for a full 60 minutes, not just one period," said Gogolev, who had an assist to go with his goal on Wednesday.
"Our conference is really close and every single game is really important and will be for the next 20 games," Gogolev said.
After Friday's game in the Soo the Storm will play in Saginaw on Saturday.
Next home game is Feb. 14 against Owen Sound.