Preview: Mayhem @ Birmingham Bulls (Game 46)

Missed Chances Prove Costly in Knoxville
Last night’s 2-1 loss in Knoxville could have serious ramifications for the Mayhem, who failed to secure vital points for their playoff hunt despite creating abundant chances to do so. Hayden Stewart had a rock-solid homecoming in his return to The Volunteer State, stopping 24-of-26 shots and being in sound position for the two goals he did allow.

The Mayhem fell behind just four minutes into the game, after a miscue in the defensive zone led to a wide open look for Josh Pietrantonio right in front of the Macon net. Scott Cuthrell then buried an unlikely one-timer from the top of the left circle at 16:35 of the first period. Stewart seemingly had the angle covered, but the puck found its way past him. Stewart shut the door for the rest of the contest, but the Mayhem could not complete the comeback. They missed out on several opportunities to tie the game after Colton Wolter brought them within one 8:52 into the second. The power play went 0-for-4 on the night, and despite outshooting the opposition 29-26, the Mayhem fell by a 2-1 final.

The Matchup
The Birmingham Bulls defeated the defending champion Huntsville Havoc in overtime last night. Josh Harris tied the game with under six minutes remaining in regulation, and Kasey Kulczycki netted the OT-winner just 91 seconds into sudden death.

In Macon’s last outing with Birmingham on February 22nd, they heavily outshot the Bulls (40-22) but fell victim to a magnificent goaltending performance by Artt Brey. The 5-2 loss darkened the playoff picture for the Mayhem, but they now have an opportunity to redeem themselves just a week after the fact. The Bulls have taken three games out of five against the Mayhem this season, and defended their home ice in Macon’s lone trip to the Pelham Civic Complex back on December 27th. While tonight’s game may not be a “must win” mathematically, it is just about as close as it gets to being so.

A Closer Look at the Playoff Picture
Time is not on Macon’s side. The Mayhem have played the second-most games in the SPHL, and will have just ten contests remaining on their schedule after tonight, seven of which will be on the road. On the schedule ahead are challenges in difficult buildings like Huntsville, Fayetteville and Evansville. Currently, the Mayhem are among four teams jostling for the bottom two playoff spots, while the top six teams in the league are all comfortably ahead 14+ points in the race.

Roanoke (37 points), Quad City (36 points) and Birmingham (38 points) are all within reasonable striking distance for Macon (36 points). Unfortunately for the Mayhem, these three teams will be playing each other in bunches down the stretch. Roanoke, for example, still has five games against Quad City and two against Birmingham remaining on the schedule. This means that several of the teams with whom the Mayhem are battling for a playoff berth will be guaranteed two points in a high number of matchups going forward. This, combined with having fewer available points remaining on the schedule, puts the Mayhem at a disadvantage. The margin for error is now razor-thin, but the Mayhem have shown to be an exceptionally resilient group all season. Tonight, the focus will be on defeating Birmingham in regulation, and the Mayhem will certainly welcome help from Fayetteville against Roanoke and Evansville against Quad City.

Fan Appreciation Night
Macon’s next home game will be on Tuesday, March 10th against the Ice Bears. The promotion will be Fan Appreciation Night; the first 50 fans through the front doors will receive a free Mayhem water bottle. Additionally, all tickets will be just $10/person and will be available on Ticketmaster shortly. To purchase them, click here.