The Quad City Mallards picked the right time of the season to get hot.
Out of the playoff picture until a weekend ago, the Flock improved their postseason outlook by winning their season-best fourth straight Saturday night, completing a back-to-back sweep of Missouri, 7-1 at Moline's i wireless Center.
A playoff-charged crowd of 5,068 watched the Mallards (27-24-6, 60 points) move six standings points ahead of idle Bloomington (26-29-2, 54 points) for the eighth and final postseason spot in the Central Hockey League.
Of the Flock's final nine regular-season games, six are against Bloomington, including today's 4:05 p.m. matinee in Moline.
The Mallards also meet fifth-place Missouri (29-23-5, 63 points) twice more next weekend, with a real head-to-head shot of overtaking the Mavericks.
The only plus eluding QC on Saturday was drawing into a seventh-place tie with Arizona (28-26-6, 62 points), which pulled out a 2-1 win at second-place Fort Worth.
Heck, the once unfathomable thought of home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs has entered the conversation, with QC now eight points behind fourth-place Rapid City (31-23-6, 68 points), which fell Saturday, 3-2 in overtime to league-leading Allen.
"We just have to keep playing hard. You never know what can happen,'' QC coach Terry Ruskowski said. "I just told them, `Be humble. Don't be cocky. Take one shift at a time. Beat the guy next to you.' If you're a plus hockey player, we're going to have a good chance to win hockey games.''
That certainly was the case Saturday with the Mallards powering their way up the standings by going 4-for-6 on the power-play.
In QC's previous 56 games, the Flock had scored 31 man-advantage goals, the fewest in the Double-A circuit.
"Our power play at the beginning of the year was a joke. It was pretty bad,'' QC rookie Mike Stinziani said. "But now we're moving the puck around, and shooting and doing what we need to do.''
Stinziani's linemate, fellow rookie Mike Hellyer, had two of QC's four power-play goals. QC scoring leader Mickey Lang and team captain Darren McMillan had the other man-advantage scores.
The Mallards also netted a pair of third-period penalty shots by Stinziani and Lang in a four-goal frame.
Stinziani scored QC's only 5-on-5 goal in the second period for a 3-1 edge.
"That's the first time I've ever seen two penalty shots in a game, much less one period,'' Stinziani said, echoing the thoughts of many.
Ruskowski also credited the goaltending of John Murray (stopped 33 of 34 shots) and a line led by Jason Dixon for keeping CHL scoring leader Sebastien Thinel off the scoreboard.
"They didn't give them anything,'' Ruskowski said. "That was key keeping their top guy off the board. Everybody did their job. It's the type of win where 18 guys all did something.''
Stinziani (3 points), Hellyer (3 points) and Lang (2 points) each enjoyed two-goal nights.
Anthony Perdicaro also netted a multiple-point night with two assists.
For the two-game, home-and-away set, the Mallards mauled Missouri by a combined score of 14-3, with Saturday's seven scores answering an early 1-0 Mavericks lead.
"We're chasing them, so we want to send a message every game,'' Stinziani said. "Playoffs are right around the corner and any team we play in this league it's not easy. We've lost to (last-place) Tulsa and we've beaten (second-place) Fort Worth. Every game we play is going to be a grind, so we can't take anybody lightly.''
"It's a real big game,'' Ruskowski said. "We have to do more than make this a good weekend. We have to make it a great weekend. We've had trouble against Bloomington and they're sitting back resting. Hopefully the guys can rebound. We'll skate short shifts because I know we'll be tired.''
After a second straight two-goal game, and seventh of the season, CHL MVP candidate Lang now has 70 points and 34 goals, the second-most in the Double-A circuit.
Stinziani boasts 23 goals now after his third multiple-goal game of the campaign. CHL Rookie of the Year nominee Hellyer also has three multi-goal games, and 22 total marks on the year for a league-leading 53 points by newcomers.
``We're getting hot at the right time,'' Stinziani. ``At the beginning (of the year), we were pushing to make the playoffs. But now, if you look at the standings, we can not only make the playoffs, but move up.
``We're three points back (of Missouri), and six points up (on Bloomington), but there's still nine games left and it ain't over. We can still not make the playoffs or we can finish higher. So we have to play each game desperate and fight to the end.''