What the Belfast Giants need to win the Elite League title this weekend
After seven gruelling months, it all comes down to one final weekend.
Since last September, the Belfast Giants and Cardiff Devils have gone toe-to-toe in pursuit of the Elite League title and, fittingly, it will all be decided over the course of the next three days.
By far the top two sides in the league this season, the only more appropriate way to finish the campaign would have been for the two teams to face each other in the final game. As it is, they'll do it another way.
Tonight, the Giants welcome the Fife Flyers to the SSE Arena (face-off 7pm) for their penultimate game, where a victory would draw them level with the Devils - who currently have a two-point lead - at the summit.
Both sides then play tomorrow night at the same time, the Giants finishing their regular season schedule by taking on another Scottish opponent at home, the Dundee Stars (7pm), while Cardiff welcome the Milton Keynes Lightning to the Viola Arena.
Should Adam Keefe's side win both of their games, and provided the Devils get past the Lightning as expected, then the deciding tie comes on Sunday at the SkyDome in Coventry, where Cardiff take on the Blaze (5.15pm).
The situation is simple for the Giants, who made it to this stage by downing the Blaze 7-2 on Wednesday night at the SkyDome to set up the nail-biting conclusion to the regular season: they must better the Devils' results this weekend by two points.
In other words, they need Cardiff to lose either one of their final two games in regulation or both ties in overtime, while the Giants also need to win both of their matches in regulation.
Should that happen, and both teams finish on the same number of points, then the title would go to the Giants on the first tie-breaker, regulation wins.
Understandably, Keefe is playing it cool ahead of what may be a big weekend for his side - they could win their first league title since 2014 - although he did add he was proud to be at this point.
"Let's keep progressing here and moving forward, keep building momentum going into the play-offs," insisted the Giants head coach, in his second year in charge.
"The league title is out of our hands, all we can do is worry about our own game and ourselves and whatever Cardiff will do, they'll do.
"It's a hard trophy to win, that's for sure. It's a long season and a lot of things can go wrong. There have been plenty of twists and turns throughout the season, but to be pushing it down to the final weekend is a success in itself.
"Obviously we want to win it and we hope it happens, but at the end of the day these guys are a real credit to the organisation and the city, and right now we're focused on building momentum going into the play-offs."
If they are to win the title, then they'll need a favour. It could come from the Lightning tomorrow in Cardiff - however, given their dreadful season, it looks more likely to be in Coventry from the Blaze on Sunday.
If the English side play like they did against the Giants on Wednesday then chances are it'll be a disappointing result, but Keefe is confident the Blaze can fire on all cylinders.
"I know their rivalry and I know they won't want Cardiff to celebrate on their ice. They'll show up and give it everything they've got," maintained Keefe.
"This is sport, so whatever happens on the night happens. All we can worry about is ourselves and Fife on Friday."
It would be another heartbreaking second-placed finish for the Giants if they were to be pipped on Sunday - which, ironically, is when they are hosting their end-of-season awards night - after their Continental Cup misery back in January.
There's been no secret made of how close this group of players are, as highlighted by the defence of their Challenge Cup title, and there's no lack of desire within the locker room to add one more.
Winger Darcy Murphy, who set a franchise record for the most goals in a season with 46 on Wednesday, added: "It'd mean a lot. Belfast hasn't won it in a while and it would mean a lot to every guy in the locker room.
"We'll hope for the best and if we do what we can do then we'll be happy."