The Buffalo Blizzard's final regular-season games amount to nothing more than tune-ups for the upcoming National Professional Soccer League playoffs.
The Blizzard (21-16) closes with three road games, beginning tonight at 8 against Milwaukee (Radio 107.7 FM), followed by trips to Detroit on Saturday afternoon and St. Louis on Sunday night.
Those contests were rendered meaningless by Buffalo's 8-7 victory over Edmonton last Friday. The win gave the Blizzard its second straight North Division title, a first-round bye in the playoffs and home-field advantage in the National Conference semifinals.
"It is very important for us to be in this situation," Blizzard coach Carlos Salguero said. "This gives us a chance to rest guys who play the year 'round and give guys who don't play much some minutes.
"We also have some guys coming back from injuries. They are not in great shape, so these games will give them a good workout and get them adjusted to game situations again."
Veterans like goalkeeper Billy Andracki, forward Rudy Pikuzinski, defender Bobby DiNunzio and midfielder Randy Pikuzinski will play, but probably no more than a half in each game, Salguero said.
Andracki, who has started 36 of Buffalo's 37 games, feels getting some rest is important.
But not too much. After the final regular-season game, the Blizzard won't play again until they host an NPSL first-round playoff game on April 9.
"You want to play as many games as possible to stay sharp," Andracki said. "I think as a goalkeeper, if you get too many games off you lose that edge a little bit."
It appears Salguero is taking measures to prevent a letdown. He put the team through rigorous practices this week at the Sportsplex in North Tonawanda.
"Practice has been pretty intense, especially the last month," Rudy Pikuzinski said. "We have a lot of guys on this team that realize the way you practice is the way you're going to play."
Before the Blizzard can prepare for the playoffs, their opponent has to be determined. The Wichita Wings and Kansas City Attack are tied for second in the Midwest Division, with two games remaining for each team.
Whichever team finishes second visits Buffalo for Game One in the best-of-three, first-round series. The Blizzard owns a 4-0 record against Wichita, while splitting four games with Kansas City.
"They're both good teams with different styles," Andracki said. "We have had better luck with Wichita, but that could have an adverse effect. They are going to be fired up and try and pound us, whereas Kansas City knows it has beaten us and may come out a little softer. Either way, it's going to be a tough game."
Forward Doug Miller is one of several Blizzard players nursing nagging injuries. Miller, the team's second-leading scorer, has missed two weeks with a bad knee.
Salguero expects Miller to start running in about 10 days, but his playoff availability is uncertain.
As for the final three road games, the players have plenty of motivation to finish the regular season strong.
"We want to take at least two of these games to go into the playoffs with some momentum," Rudy Pikuzinski said. "Also, the best record the Blizzard ever had was 23-17. We'd like to see if we can tie or beat that record."