Nobody ever said reaching the Calder Cup playoffs was an easy endeavor.
Just two weeks before the end of the regular season, the American League’s playoff picture is as muddled as it has been in recent memory.
Only one club, the AHL-leading Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, has clinched a playoff berth so far. Moreover, all but eight of the AHL’s 30 clubs remain in the playoff picture.
Further complicating matters is that some of the AHL’s doormats are amongst the league’s hottest clubs this month. A winless March has derailed the Springfield Falcons’ playoff aspirations, but Adirondack, Albany and Syracuse all have enjoyed a prosperous month. Out west, 14th-place Rockford throttled San Antonio (now two points out of the post-season) by a 5-1 count Wednesday night.
Here is a look at the AHL playoff scene heading into the weekend.
The Eastern Conference playoff table is mostly set and where teams position themselves is the only variable remaining. Connecticut has made its playoff chances much more likely with a four-game winning streak.
The main question to be determined is whether Worcester can prevent Binghamton from taking the cross-over spot in the Atlantic Division. The Senators hold a three-point advantage and have a slew of winnable games on the horizon. Worcester has a similar schedule remaining in terms of the quality of opponents, but six of the Sharks’ next seven games are on home ice.
As for the much tighter Western Conference, here is a look at the North Division with a West Division analysis to appear next week.
Abbotsford has gone on a tear this month despite a mostly inept offense. The Heat rank 29th in the AHL in goals-per-game, but at this time of year a defensively oriented approach is an asset. The Heat play a physical brand of hockey that will serve them well if they squeak into the post-season. Four points out of a playoff spot entering the weekend, the Heat’s cause is aided by the schedule – they have anywhere from one to four games in hand on the clubs they are trying to fend off for a playoff spot.
The Griffins have held a winning record since Feb. 20, erasing what had largely been a bust of a season. Though they have mostly gone without the services of proven veteran goaltender Joey MacDonald, the Griffins’ Jordan Pearce has taken over in net recently and carried the club through most of the second half this season. As well, veteran sniper Chris Minard has finally reacquired a scoring touch that had been dormant for most of the season. In the past month alone, the Griffins have tacked on 21 points to plant themselves firmly in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race. However, Grand Rapids has a challenging schedule remaining, including three games against Abbotsford.
Once considered a strong Calder Cup contender, the Bulldogs will be lucky to reach the post-season at all as injuries in Montreal and Hamilton have conspired against the Bulldogs this season. An injury to Curtis Sanford forced the Bulldogs to swap defenseman Brett Festerling for goaltender Drew MacIntyre to provide the team with a proven No. 1 goaltender. MacIntyre has delivered a solid effort since coming to Hamilton. Other than Friday night’s game at Rockford, each of the Bulldogs’ remaining games will come against a club in the playoff race. Currently sitting two points out, the Bulldogs finish with a four-game road trip through Abbotsford and Manitoba, which is a tough way to finish the season.
Up until recently, Lake Erie didn’t seem like a solid playoff contender. In mid-January, the Monsters had a losing record and seemed like a solid bet to miss out on the post-season for the first time in team history. But the Monsters have found their groove over the past two months and have lost in regulation only four times since Jan. 23.
Ah, the club that continues to baffle AHL observers. The Moose have battled injuries and recalls all season and coach Claude Noel hasn’t had a set lineup all season. Joel Perrault finally returned from a two-month absence due to injury, while Marco Rosa has been out since January. Defenseman Lee Sweatt is done for the season with the Moose and addition Jason Jaffray has yet to play this season. Still, Manitoba’s playoff situation is relatively solid at the moment. With 82 points, the Moose are two behind division-leading Lake Erie. Even better for the Moose, three games against last-place Rochester await Manitoba next week.
The Marlies serve as this week’s reminder that even a seemingly easy schedule can clobber a club’s playoff hopes. The Marlies dropped a pair of games last weekend to Eastern Conference doormats Adirondack and Syracuse. The Marlies are still in the thick of the playoff race, but they’ve played more games than all the teams they are battling with.
THIS & THAT
• Syracuse rookie Kyle Palmieri earned player of the week honors for his six-goal effort.
• Colin McDonald’s 32 goals place him second in the AHL in that category. Before this season, the Oklahoma City power forward had managed just 34 goals over his first three AHL seasons.
From THN.com American League correspondent Patrick Williams, Around The AHL keeps tabs on the world’s second best circuit, details all the news and notes and profiles prospects destined for the next level. It appears every Thursday only on TheHockeyNews.com.