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Down To The Wire

by Mike Doyle / Minnesota Wild

Heading into the final weekend of the American Hockey League regular season, the Western Conference playoff picture is as clear as a Jackson Pollock painting. However, with three games this weekend, the Houston Aeros can control their place on the playoff canvas.

Houston, Milwaukee, Peoria, Lake Erie and Rochester all have 82 points – trailing fifth-place San Antonio by a single point – heading into the weekend. Charlotte also is in the mix with 81 points.

Houston and Milwaukee both have a game in hand over Peoria, Lake Erie and Rochester. Check out the complete AHL standings, here.

“The Western Conference in the American League is very much like the Western Conference in the NHL, and this year it’s even tighter,” General Manager Jim Mill said. “With the four through 11 teams all in the hunt.”

The Aeros have three games in three days over the weekend, and can lock up a playoff spot with three wins. The team will have some added depth on the blue line as the Wild reassigned Marco Scandella and Nate Prosser to Houston on Sunday. Both players spent time with the Aeros this season, but played a majority of their games with the Wild.

Jon DiSalvatore, who was named to AHL Second All-Star Team, leads the Aeros with 59 points. DiSalvatore is one of the many players who guided the Aeroes to within one game of the Calder Cup last season.

“We have some great leadership,” Mill said. “You have a tested and weathered group of guys that have competed, had success and won together.” 

Despite having a roster with experience, Houston has had to deal with constantly plugging players into the lineup because of call-ups to Minnesota. The Aeros have been shorthanded for most of the season because every injury in Minnesota was felt in Houston.

“I don’t think we’ve had a repeated lineup for the last 40 games,” Head Coach John Torchetti said. “Hats off to the players for keeping us in a great spot and not worrying about who was in the lineup.

“It says a lot about the character of our players.”

The cavalcade of Aeros who were call-ups to Minnesota includes: Matt Hackett, Chad Rau, Jeff Taffe, David McIntyre, Kris Foucault, Carson McMillan, Chay Genoway, Nick Palmieri, Tyler Cuma, Cody Almond, Kris Fredheim and Jarod Palmer.

Wild prospect Brett Bulmer played nine games in Minnesota to start the season before he was reassigned to his junior team in Kelowna for development. After his season in Kelowna ended, Bulmer was assigned to Houston. 

Mill reverberates the sentiment of how the injuries in Minnesota have had a trickle down effect: “It’s been a challenge both in Minnesota and Houston, but it’s those challenges that makes you stronger, and that adversity you face and you grow from.”

A challenge for the Aeros has come in shootouts. Houston’s 11 shootout losses are the most in the AHL. Add that to the Aeros’ five overtime losses and that’s a lot of close calls left out of the win column. With six points on the line this weekend, it will be paramount for the Aeros to take as many points as possible. 

“The number one thing is that we’ve got to win if we get into an overtime situation,” Torchetti said. “We worked on our shootouts this week and we’re ready to go if it comes down to it.”

The road to the Calder Cup Playoffs for Houston will start tomorrow night in Oklahoma City against the Western Conference leading Barons. The Aeros will then be home on Saturday against San Antonio and wrap the season on Sunday against Texas. View the Aeros regular-season schedule, here

“It’s going to be advantageous for us to be in a comfortable spot,” said Torchetti about having home ice for the final two games. “To have our fans support and I think our players will respond well.”

So, the Aeros’ final three games will decide the team’s playoff fortunes. But, Torchetti doesn’t need to draw up the importance for the players on a whiteboard.

“The players know how important these games are; they’re going to put their own pressure on themselves,” Torchetti said. “We’re looking forward to it and I’m looking forward to see how the team responds to the challenge.”

With seven teams vying for four spots going into the last weekend of the season, a tiebreaker scenario is a distinct possibility.

The following are the tiebreaking procedures used in the event of a tie in points in the standings, regardless of division, following the completion of the regular season. (Prior to the end of the regular season, the team with fewer games played is ranked higher in the event of a tie in points.) When a tie among three or more teams is broken resulting in a two-team tie, the original tiebreaking method is used.

Between two teams:
a) wins (excluding shootouts)
b) points in season series between teams
c) goal differential
d) goals scored in season series between teams
e) intra-conference points percentage

Among three or more teams:

a) wins (excluding shootouts)
b) points percentage in combined season series
c) goal differential
d) goal differential in combined season series
e) intra-conference points percentage
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