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AHL Notebook: Playoff races down to wire

Nine teams vying for seven berths in final four days of regular season

by Patrick Williams / NHL.com Correspondent

Nine American Hockey League teams have clinched Calder Cup Playoff berths heading into the final four days of the regular season.

That leaves seven berths still to be decided, and several races could go down to the final day of the season Saturday. The top four teams in each of the four divisions qualify for the playoffs.

Five of those unclaimed berths are in the Eastern Conference. The AHL-leading Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, Toronto Marlies and Syracuse Crunch have clinched berths.

In the Western Conference, the Chicago Wolves, Grand Rapids Griffins and Milwaukee Admirals of the Central Division join the San Jose Barracuda, San Diego Gulls, and Ontario Reign from the Pacific Division as playoff teams.

Four berths could be clinched when the AHL schedule resumes Wednesday. Depending on a variety of scenarios, the Albany Devils, Lehigh Valley Phantoms, Providence Bruins and Stockton Heat could clinch playoff berths.

Here is a breakdown of each of the four divisional races:

 

Atlantic Division

One team could finish with as many as 96 points and still miss the playoffs. That is how competitive the loaded Atlantic Division has been this season.

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton clinched a playoff berth for the 15th consecutive season and was the first AHL team to 50 wins this season. They also clinched first place in the division last weekend.

Lehigh Valley and Providence each have 95 points and are jostling for second place. For Lehigh Valley, clinching would be the first time that a Philadelphia Flyers AHL affiliate has reached the playoffs since 2009.

The Bridgeport Sound Tigers have 92 points but are below the playoff line. The Hershey Bears, a Calder Cup finalist last season, have a one-point lead on Bridgeport for fourth place after sweeping a three-game road trip last weekend, including wins at Lehigh Valley and Toronto.

The path to the postseason will not be easy; each team has a game at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton this weekend. Bridgeport also is home against the Springfield Thunderbirds while Hershey hosts Providence on Saturday. Since affiliating with the Washington Capitals in 2005, Hershey has qualified for the postseason in 10 of 11 seasons and won three Calder Cup championships.

 

North Division

Albany has stumbled lately, losing nine of the past 12 games. However, help arrived from the New Jersey Devils this week with the assignments of defenseman Steven Santini to go with forwards Joseph Blandisi, Blake Coleman, Ben Thomson and Miles Wood.

The St. John's IceCaps have a one-point lead on Albany, but Albany has a game in hand that they will use against the 30th-place Hartford Wolf Pack on Wednesday.

A two-game home series against Toronto finishes the regular season for St. John's. Two points out of a playoff spot, the Utica Comets need a big week after losing two of three games last weekend.

 

Central Division

Fourth place will come down to a battle between two of the hottest teams in the AHL, the defending Calder Cup champion Cleveland Monsters and the Charlotte Checkers. Cleveland has a one-point lead on Charlotte, but Charlotte has a game in hand and starts a two-game road series against Grand Rapids on Wednesday.

Charlotte has won six of its past seven games. Cleveland has rebounded from a slow start to push its way back into playoff contention after winning 10 of its past 12 games. Cleveland with a pair of home games against the Manitoba Moose.

 

Pacific Division

One spot remains and it will involve the Bakersfield Condors and Stockton Heat fighting for fourth place. With three games remaining for each team, Stockton has a three-point lead. Stockton hosts Bakersfield on Friday.

Bakersfield lost two of three games last week and faces a difficult path. Along with visiting Stockton on Friday, dates against second-place San Diego on Wednesday and division leader San Jose on Saturday remain. Stockton is home against Ontario on Wednesday.

 

WITH HONORS

The AHL named Ontario goaltender Jack Campbell its CCM/AHL Player of the Week award winner for the period ending last Sunday. He won each of his two starts and had a .983 save percentage.

Troy Grosenick of San Jose won the Aldege "Baz" Bastien Memorial Award as the outstanding goaltender in the AHL. He is 30-10-3 with a 1.98 goals-against average, .929 save percentage and a league-leading 10 shutouts.

Matt Taormina of Syracuse won the Eddie Shore Award as top defenseman. He has 56 points (14 goals, 42 assists).

Grosenick and Taormina also were named to the AHL First All-Star team joining Lehigh Valley defenseman T.J. Brennan along with Chicago forwards Kenny Agostino and Wade Megan. Hartford forward Taylor Beck rounded out the team.

 

STAT PACK

Agostino holds the AHL scoring lead with 83 points (24 goals, 59 assists). … Megan and Pontus Aberg of Milwaukee remain tied with a league-leading 31 goals. … Zane McIntyre of Providence leads the AHL in GAA (1.88) and save percentage (.935). … As of the end of the NHL regular season, 120 AHL players played their first NHL game.

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