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AHL Weekly: 16 teams remain

AHL WEEKLY RELEASE #28

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … It was a wild finish to the 2009-10 regular season, with seven teams vying for the final three postseason berth heading into the final weekend. But now the stage is set for the 2010 Calder Cup Playoffs, with the curtain going up on Wednesday night.

The Western Conference was all sorted out by Friday, but it wasn’t until the Lowell Devils, who will make the first Calder Cup Playoff appearance by a New Jersey affiliate since 2000, secured a 6-3 win over Providence on Sunday evening that the matchups in the Eastern Conference were determined. Lowell’s victory set up a meeting with the Atlantic Division champion Worcester Sharks while crossing over Bridgeport – which moved to the Atlantic in 2009-10 – back to the East Division and a date with the powerhouse Hershey Bears. The Bears completed one of the most dominating regular seasons in AHL history, setting league records with 60 wins and 34 home victories.

Portland and Manchester, rivals in the Atlantic Division for nine years, will tangle in the postseason for the first time ever. The Pirates finished with 101 points, their second triple-digit effort in five years under head coach Kevin Dineen, while the Monarchs (43-28-3-6) had their best showing since winning the division in 2006-07. And in the Eastern Conference’s other division semifinal, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, who have never lost a first-round series, make their eighth consecutive postseason appearance and open against an Albany River Rats team looking for the franchise’s first series win since 1998.

Hamilton cruised to the North Division title with the best regular season in that franchise’s 14-year history, and the Bulldogs will face off against last year’s Calder Cup runner-up Manitoba after the teams split their eight-game season series. Abbotsford, which finished its inaugural season on a 5-0-0-1 run, opens the Calder Cup Playoffs in Rochester after the Americans edged the Heat by one point for second place in the North.

For the third time in four years, the West Division semifinals include a showdown between Chicago and Milwaukee. The Wolves won the division title on the strength of a 49-24-1-6 record (105 points), third-best in the AHL, while the Admirals extended their own AHL record by topping 40 wins and 90 points for the seventh year in a row. In the other West series, Texas and its stingy defense (tied for second in the AHL at 2.48 goals against per game) take on Rockford, which was an impressive 26-12-1-1 on home ice this season.

The AHL’s championship trophy is named after Hockey Hall of Famer Frank Calder, who served as the first president of the National Hockey League from 1917-43. During the 1920s, Calder was instrumental in guiding professional hockey into the mainstream of the United States’ major cities, including New York, Boston, Chicago and Detroit, while also helping form the American Hockey League in 1936.

The 2010 Calder Cup Playoffs get underway on Wednesday night with games in Worcester, Hershey, Albany and Chicago.

2009-10 BY THE NUMBERS … For the second year in a row, Hershey forward Alexandre Giroux scored at least 50 goals while no one else in the league had as many as 40… Hamilton established an AHL record with 60 standings points on the road (27-7-1-5)… The top four offenses in the league belonged to division winners Hershey (4.28), Worcester (3.44), Hamilton (3.39) and Chicago (3.30)… Shooters were successful on 42.3 percent of penalty shots (22-for-52) and 32.2 percent of shootout attempts during the regular season… Springfield tied a dubious AHL record with 12 overtime losses… Worcester’s Alex Stalock finished with 39 wins, most ever by an AHL rookie goaltender… Chicago’s Arturs Kulda and Hamilton’s P.K. Subban tied for the league lead with a plus-46 rating, the highest since Joby Messier’s plus-59 for Binghamton in 1992-93… Albany’s Nick Dodge and Worcester’s Danny Groulx played in all 80 games for the second year in a row, while Peoria’s Chris Porter played in 80 games for the third straight season (including 234 AHL and six NHL)… Hartford led the league in shorthanded goals (18) for the second consecutive campaign… The Bears were the first AHL team since the 1987-88 Hershey club to lead the league in power-play efficiency and penalty-killing efficiency in the same season… Hershey led the league in attendance for the fourth straight year, averaging 9,520 fans per game at Giant Center – the fifth-highest mark since the AHL began officially tracking attendance in 1962-63.

FOLLOW THE LEADERS … Some of the statistical leaders for the 2009-10 AHL season:  

Points106Keith Aucoin, HER
Goals50Alexandre Giroux, HER
Assists71Keith Aucoin, HER
Games Played8024 players tied
Plus/Minus+46Arturs Kulda, CHI
P.K. Subban, HAM
Penalty Minutes311Zack FitzGerald, ALB
Power-Play Goals19Andrew Gordon, HER
Shorthanded Goals5Derek MacKenzie, SYR
Steve Pinizzotto, HER
Dale Weise, HFD
Josh Hennessy, BNG
Game-Winning Goals10Keith Aucoin, HER
Overtime Goals28 players tied
Unassisted Goals6Dale Weise, HFD
GAA2.00Cedrick Desjardins, HAM
Save Percentage.936Jonathan Bernier, MCH
Wins39Alex Stalock, WOR
Shutouts9Jonathan Bernier, MCH
Saves1,707Jonathan Bernier, MCH
Minutes3,557Cory Schneider, MTB
Points (rookie)65Tyler Ennis, POR
Goals (rookie)23Tyler Ennis, POR
Ryan Stoa, LE
Assists (rookie)42Tyler Ennis, POR
Points (defenseman)66Danny Groulx, WOR
Goals (defenseman)18P.K. Subban, HAM
Maxim Noreau, HOU
Assists (defenseman)52Danny Groulx, WOR
Power Play %20.72Hershey
Penalty Killing %87.43Hershey
Power-Play Goals81Hershey
Shorthanded Goals18Hartford
Goals For342Hershey
Goals Against182Hamilton
Attendance380,791Hershey (9,520 avg.)

ETC. … Hershey captain Bryan Helmer played in his 982nd career regular-season game on Saturday at Norfolk, eclipsing Bill Needham’s record for an AHL defenseman… Lake Erie’s Darren Haydar notched his 600th career point in Saturday’s game vs. Abbotsford, becoming just the 43rd AHL player to reach that plateau… Bridgeport defenseman Mark Wotton skated in his 1,000th career North American pro game on Saturday vs. Manchester, a total that now includes 825 in the AHL… There were five hat tricks recorded in AHL action on Saturday night, led by a four-goal effort by Milwaukee’s Dave ScatchardPhilippe Paradis, a first-round pick by Carolina in the 2009 NHL draft, scored the decisive shootout goal in Toronto’s 3-2 win over Hamilton on Saturday… Chris Minard had a goal and four assists in Springfield’s 7-3 win over Manchester on Sunday to finish an injury-plagued season with 22-16-38 in just 40 games… Houston’s Anton Khudobin made a career-high 52 saves at San Antonio on Sunday but was saddled with the loss when Gavin Morgan gave the Rampage a 3-2 win with an empty-net goal with 18.1 seconds left; Aeros head coach Kevin Constantine pulled Khudobin in favor of an extra attacker needing a regulation win to avoid a last-place finish… All seven teams in the West Division finished at .500 or better… Hartford scored all of its goals in Saturday’s 7-5 win over Springfield in the second period, becoming the first AHL team to score seven times in one period since Hamilton (vs. Rochester) on Feb. 11, 2007… With the Wolf Pack’s sixth-place finish in the Atlantic Division, it marks the first time since 1993-94 that a New York Rangers’ AHL affiliate will miss the playoffs.