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Lights remain in playoff hunt on final day of season

Saturday night could be one of the biggest nights in the five-year history of the Las Vegas Lights.

They are still alive for a playoff spot entering their matchup with LA Galaxy II on the final night of the USL Championship season. It would be the first playoff appearance in franchise history.

The Lights have to win against Galaxy II on the road to give themselves a chance. They’ll also need some help.

A loss from either Oakland or Rio Grande Valley on Saturday, along with a Lights win, would get them into the playoffs. They also qualify if Oakland ties against Pittsburgh since the Lights hold the tiebreaker.

“To be in this final game with a playoff spot on the line,” Lights forward Cal Jennings said, “that’s what you dream about. We’re all excited and ready to go.”

First-year coach Enrique Duran was tasked with turning around the Lights, who finished in last place in the Western Conference with a 6-23-3 record last season.

Early in training camp, Duran saw that the players wanted to get the taste of last year out of their mouths.

“Last season was an important piece of motivation for the group,” Duran said. “They didn’t want to complete another bad season. That was in their minds since day one.”

The Lights’ path to being in contention for a playoff spot hasn’t been easy. They suffered four straight losses last month. And earlier this season there was a six-game stretch where they only scored one goal. The Lights have won two of their past three, along with picking up a draw, to stay in the hunt.

Jennings said the way the Lights overcame those struggles showed the team had made improvements from last season.

“It shows the maturity of the team this year,” Jennings said. “We’ve shown we’re a team that knows how to win and how to fight and grind out results.”

Duran said he isn’t changing his approach to preparing the Lights for Saturday’s game. He’s focused on controlling what they can control — with the Lights needing help to qualify for the playoffs — and that’s getting a win against Galaxy II.

“I want them to push one more time to see if they can get the (playoff) spot I think they deserve as a team,” Duran said.

Jennings said making the playoffs would have a special meaning.

“You’re judged on your results and whether you make the playoffs or not,” Jennings said. “This is a massive time for us. We want to be able to reap the benefits of what has been a huge improvement of a season.”

Contact Alex Wright at awright@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AlexWright1028 on Twitter.

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