It is the scourge of coaching . . . the game that doesn't mean anything.
And while tonight's WHL game between the Prince George Cougars and Kamloops Blazers at Interior Savings Centre is all but meaningless for one team, it means a whole lot to the other.
This will be the final regular-season home game for the Blazers, who will finish third in the Western Conference, meaning they will meet the sixth-place Cougars in a first-round playoff series that will open at ISC on March 22.
The Cougars, meanwhile, are down to their last gasp as they try to grab the conference's last playoff spot.
After losing 5-2 to the Rockets in Kelowna last night, the best the Cougars can hope for is a tie for eighth with the Everett Silvertips and a sudden-death play-in game. For that to happen, the Cougars have to beat the Blazers twice - tonight at ISC and Saturday in Prince George - while the Silvertips lose all three of their remaining games in regulation time. The Silvertips will meet the Royals in Victoria tonight, then play host to the Royals on Saturday, before meeting the visiting Tri-City Americans on Sunday.
With not a whole lot on the line for his side, Blazers head coach Guy Charron promised Thursday that he will be true to the game.
"You play to win the hockey game. That's the best way to explain it," Charron said after practice on Thursday. "I wouldn't want to do something to make our lineup weaker. If players are 100 per cent and they get the OK to play, they will play. If we are putting them in a predicament where they may . . . aggravate an injury, then they won't play."
If anyone is looking for the Blazers to ice a roster full of prospects, Charron said that won't happen.
He said he wouldn't "play all the kids" and take the attitude that "it doesn't matter what the outcome of the game's going to be as long as we're healthy."
Quite simply, Charron said, he has too much respect for the game to do that.
"Exactly . . . that's who I am," he stated.
Still, the Blazers are likely to be without four forwards this weekend.
They have been without Matt Needham, Joe Kornelsen and Aspen Sterzer, something that has impacted their depth and caused problems down the stretch, and now JC Lipon is on the limp.
Needham (undisclosed) has missed 11 games since last playing on Feb. 15, while Kornelsen, who hasn't played since March 2, has missed four games. He had a walking boot on his right foot yesterday. Sterzer (concussion) has missed 30 games since he last played on Dec. 29 and isn't yet working out regularly.
Charron is hoping to have Needham and Kornelsen on the ice next week in order to get them ready for the playoffs.
"Matt Needham solidifies three lines for us," Charron said. "Joe Kornelsen is a utility guy; he can help on any line. The success of our team is the depth of our team and the ability to play four lines.
"But we don't have a lot of flexibility up front right now."
That lack of depth was never more in evidence than last weekend when the Blazers lost two games - 3-2 and 2-1 - to the Rockets.
Lipon has an undisclosed injury. He skated yesterday but was wearing yellow, meaning he wasn't to be involved in contact. He will be a game-time decision tonight, but the fact he hasn't had any contact in practice would seem to indicate that he is doubtful.
"Contact could make the rehab longer than it might be," Charron said, "and we have time in our favour right now so we would like to use it to the best of our ability."
The Cougars have been on the road for more than a week, having visited the Seattle Thunderbirds, Tri-City Americans, Vancouver Giants, Spokane Chiefs and Kelowna since March 8.
Prince George won the first two of those games, but now has lost four in a row.
JUST NOTES: Game time tonight is 7 o'clock. . . . G Cole Cheveldave will start for the Blazers tonight, with G Taran Kozun getting the Saturday start. Kozun last played Feb. 27 in a 5-3 loss to the visiting Vancouver Giants. . . . The Blazers will present their individual regular-season awards prior to tonight's game. The Cougars will do the same before Saturday's rematch.