Lakeland/Tomahawk already knows its seed and opponent for the upcoming WIAA girls' hockey playoffs, but it still had two non-conference games to play before that.
On Thursday, the Thunderbirds battled the Hayward co-op on the road before going to Black River Falls on Saturday afternoon.
Lakeland struggled to find the net in both games, failing to score a goal in both outings.
Against Hayward, the T-Birds were doubled in shots, but goaltender Anna Maulson was able to put forth a solid effort, stopping all but two of the 34 shots that came her way in a 2-0 loss.
"Hayward's fast and deep. They just throw lines at you that are solid," Lakeland/Tomahawk head coach Steve Bucklew said. "They outshot us by quite a bit, but Anna played a good game and we actually outshot them in the third period, but we weren't able to find the net."
Against Black River Falls, the T-Birds fell behind 2-0 in the first two minutes of the game as the team came out a bit lethargic.
Lakeland slowly got into the game and matched Black River Falls in shots in third, but the first period turned out to be the difference a 4-0 loss to wrap up the regular season.
"We came out really flat. We gave up two early goals, two weak goals," Bucklew said. "Then we settled down. Anna had some equipment issues midway through the first and Mariah (Lear) came in and she played great coming in cold. She played the second period and Anna played the third and each gave up a goal after the initial two. We just couldn't put the puck in the net. They're a good team, but we were off. We weren't on our best game. I would rather it was this game than Friday's game."
Mariah Lear entered the game and stopped 12 of 13 shots before Maulson returned to stop five of six in the third period.
The freshman goaltender has come on late in the season and aside from the rough start against Black River Falls, she has been reliable between the pipes.
"I don't know if it was partly due to the equipment, but she played an excellent third period," Bucklew said. "That's why I wanted her back in the game. So the taste of the first two goals wasn't left in her mouth for Friday. I think we'll be good."
Lakeland now turns its attention to Northland Pines, the opponent in the opening round of the playoffs.
Obviously, scoring is a necessity to winning, and after none of its 37 shots in the final two games snuck past the goaltender, the T-Birds must find a way to generate some offense.
"We have to get back on track and start playing as a unit," Bucklew said. "We have to get back to trusting our linemates and where their position is. Right now we're getting caught overplaying our positions a little bit. When that happens there aren't a lot of great places to go with the puck so we're not getting a lot of great shots on net. The opportunities that we have been getting are either gut shots or they're missing the net completely. So that's something we're going to have to work on. We're going to have a hard week of practice and everything is focused for Friday."
This has been a historical season for Lakeland on the ice, and as a result, it has played a number of games considered to be the biggest in program history.
That includes the playoff game against the Lady Eagles on Friday. Lakeland has never hosted or won a playoff game since the program was formed. The T-Birds knock down one barrier by hosting Northland Pines, but it would mean far more to secure a playoff win.
"I think it's just another stamp that this wasn't a fluke season. It just kind of backs up everything we've done this season," Bucklew said. "If you look on paper, it's a game we should win, but those games with Pines could go either way. We're going to have to play our best and play three periods of hockey, which we've struggled with. It seems like we always like to give someone else the lead, but hopefully we'll get back on track. I'm looking forward to it. I think it's a great opportunity. I know the girls will be nervous, they'll be anxious, but I think those are all good things that'll snap them out of that first period slump."
Lakeland/Tomahawk (12-12) hosts Northland Pines on Friday at Lakeland Hawks Ice Arena, with faceoff scheduled for 7 p.m.
Nick Sabato may be reached at email@example.com or via Twitter@SabatoNick.