Abbotsford, which was mathematically eliminated from playoff contention earlier in the week, gave the 6,503 fans in attendance a show on their fan appreciation night, defeating the Toronto Marlies 3-0 on Friday.
"This group feels deprived of what they're not going to get," said Heat head coach Troy Ward. "They were one of the best teams in the whole conference in January, but some things happened, some things fell out of control, we lost a lot of practice time and the wheels fell off. I think they're still hungry to prove they belong somewhere, and I think that's what happened tonight."
Danny Taylor made 25 saves for his third shutout of the season, and 12th of his AHL career, and though he had to make some tough stops, the defence did a good job in limited second chance by Toronto.
Tyler Ruegsegger had a goal and an assist, while Mike Testwuide and Krys Kolanos also scored for the Heat (33-30-10).
"They're a skilled team, they work hard, they're big," said Ruegsegger. "They did some good things tonight — I don't think we dominated the game by any means like that. They're going to come out hard on Sunday. They're in a race for first place and we have to respect them as a team."
Toronto (40-22-9) had their 4-0-1 run snapped and remain four points back of Texas for first place in the Western Conference, though the Marlies have one game in hand on the Stars.
However, despite the loss the Marlies clinched a Calder Cup playoff spot, by virtue of Chicago's 7-3 loss to Rockford earlier Friday.
"They're a good top-end team over there and are going to go far in the playoffs more than likely," said Heat defenceman Mark Cundari, who picked up an assist in his first game with Abbtosford. "I still think that they've got another gear and we'll probably see it on Sunday."
Drew MacIntyre made 23 saves in the loss.
The Heat were 2 for 3 on the power play, while the Marlies couldn't score on their six man advantages.
"The penalty kill did a great job," said Ruegsegger. "We took way too many penalties. Against a skilled team like Toronto, they're not going to go 0 for 6 without eventually getting some quality chances. Our power play did a good job and got a big goal for us."
Abbotsford opened the scoring at 8:11 of the first.
Ruegsegger took a drop pass from Blair Jones and beat MacIntyre from the faceoff dot with a low wrist shot, giving the former University of Denver Pioneer 10 goals on the season.
"I was glad to see him get rewarded, because he's pretty much the junkyard dog of the group," said Ward. "He's a ham-and-egg guy, he gets in there and gets after it, and it was nice to see him rewarded with a couple of points."
Abbotsford then picked up their first of two power-play goals when Testwuide scored at 9:38 of the second. Brady Lamb's laser of a point shot looked to be corralled by MacIntyre but as the Marlies stood around waiting for a whistle the Heat jammed at the loose puck, with Testwuide getting the final touch for his fourth of the season.
Tim Connolly was one of the most dangerous Marlies, including a partial breakaway with two minutes remaining in the second, but Taylor made the stop and covered up.
Kolanos scored a highlight-reel goal to make it 3-0. One-on-one with Paul Ranger, he undressed the Toronto defenceman and then beat MacIntyre blocker side for his 17th of the season at 5:01 of the third.
"Even if we're not in the playoffs, it means a lot to us that we finish strong," said Ruegsegger. "I was proud of us tonight. There are some things we definitely need to clean up, but I'm proud."
The Heat and Marlies meet again Sunday at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre.