The American League is heading into the final quarter of the season amid a crush of activity.
Several AHL clubs are getting players back from national teams that were eliminated early in Olympic competition. The NHL trade deadline looms on March 3 and AHL clubs are always at risk for losing talent in NHL deadline trades.
However, the outside commotion has not slowed down the AHL playoff race.
The East playoff mix is complicated by the AHL’s division-based playoff format where the fifth-place club in the Atlantic Division can overtake the East Division’s fourth-place club if the former finishes with more points. The Atlantic Division club would then move into the East Division’s fourth spot and most likely play the Hershey Bears in a first-round series.
Thus, Bridgeport (63 points) heads into the weekend holding the Eastern Conference’s last available playoff spot over the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (60 points). Adirondack and Syracuse both rest at 56 points and even a minor skid would shatter any realistic playoff hopes for them.
The Lowell Devils, a success story for so much of the season, are now stumbling. A New Jersey affiliate has not reached the Calder Cup playoffs since 2000 and Lowell seemed a sure bet to finally break that streak a few weeks ago. However, a 2-5-1-2 slide has made the post-season a tenuous proposition for coach John MacLean’s Devils, who sit at 67 points.
At 59 points each, Hartford and Providence, two Eastern Conference post-season mainstays for years, are in danger of missing the playoffs. Heading into the weekend, the Bruins, who have not sat out the post-season since a dreadful 1997-98 season, are on the outside looking in. The Wolf Pack joins the Bruins on the outside.
The Western playoff picture is much less messy, though presently the Texas Stars are the biggest story.
A force for much of the first half of the season, the Stars have slid to fourth place in the West Division and have just a six-point edge on the Houston Aeros. The Stars’ 3-7-0-0 slip over their past 10 games is rivaled only by Peoria’s spectacular tumble. Amid much discontent in Peoria, the Rivermen are in last place and 11 points outside of the playoffs.
In the North Division, a big cushion has aided the Rochester Americans, who are on a 3-7-0-0 stumble, but still sit in second place. A rough stretch last month hurt Manitoba badly – the Moose are in fourth place and have just a five-point lead on Lake Erie, with the Monsters holding two games in hand.
Abbotsford has moved into a playoff spot, despite a nine-game road trip. The Calgary affiliate is on an 8-1-0-1 burst.
The Hershey Bears continue to tear up the AHL record book. The Bears took a pair of home wins last weekend to set a new AHL record of 20 consecutive home wins. The Bears, who have not lost at home since Nov. 28, are on a 20-0-0-1 run at Giant Center heading into this Saturday night’s tilt with visiting Bridgeport.
Last weekend, Hershey captain Bryan Helmer, 37, tied Steve Kraftcheck’s AHL record for assists by a defenseman at 386.
THIS AND THAT…
• Chicago’s Paul Postma procured weekly player honors for a four goal, six-point performance over four contests last week for the red-hot Wolves…
• The AHL drew the largest crowd of its 74-season history last weekend when the Syracuse Crunch staged the first AHL outdoor game before 21,508 fans. Big crowds were a theme last weekend, as the AHL moved past four million fans for the season. Hamilton drew 15,529 fans at the Bell Centre in Montreal this past Sunday…
• The Nashville-Milwaukee affiliation will continue for at least two more seasons after the two sides reached an agreement this week. The third-oldest NHL-AHL partnership is in its 12th season. Both sides hold an option for the 2012-13 season…
• Tampa Bay named Norfolk coach Jim Johnson, who went 13-2-1-1 after taking over for Darren Rumble on Jan. 17, an assistant coach on the Lightning to replace Wes Walz. Walz turned down an offer to take Johnson’s place in Norfolk, so the Admirals remain without a head coach…
• Rochester earned its 2,000th win in franchise history Feb. 21.
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 profiling prospects destined for the next level. It appears every weekend only on TheHockeyNews.com.