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AHL Weekly Release: Marlies, Moose, Crunch stay hot

WEEKLY RELEASE #25

cc08.jpgSPRINGFIELD, Mass. … In a North Division where only three teams are guaranteed a spot in the Calder Cup Playoffs, the group’s elite are distancing themselves from the pack as the 2007-08 regular season continues to wind down. With a combined record of 30-7-2-5 (.761) since Feb. 20, the Toronto Marlies, Manitoba Moose and Syracuse Crunch occupy the top three spots in the AHL North with three weeks to go.

The Marlies, who have followed up a five-game losing streak with five consecutive wins entering the week, wrapped up their second postseason berth in three seasons with a weekend home-and-home sweep of the rival Hamilton Bulldogs. Twelve different Marlies have scored the team’s 15 goals over those five victories, with only Alex Foster, Colin Murphy and Bates Battaglia finding the net more than once.

Toronto plays 10 of its final 11 games against division opponents, including four meetings with the second-place Moose. The Marlies are 28-11-2-1 vs. the North this season.

Manitoba’s hot streak has seen it win eight in a row, earn points in 10 straight (9-0-0-1) and go 17-6-0-2 since the All-Star break, trimming the Marlies’ lead atop the North to nine points. Rookie goaltender Cory Schneider has won nine straight starts, and has improved his numbers from a 3.04 GAA and an .888 save percentage at the start of February to a 2.34 GAA and a .913 save percentage at week’s end. Brad Moran has led the offense with 13 points (4g, 9a) during Manitoba’s eight-game winning streak, including four consecutive multi-point efforts from Mar. 15-20.

The Moose play six of their last 11 games against division leaders Toronto (four) and Chicago (two), but they also have five games remaining against current playoff outsiders Rochester (two), Grand Rapids (two) and Lake Erie (one).

Syracuse has won a season-high five straight, and has earned points in 13 consecutive outings (10-0-0-3) and 19 of its last 20 (14-1-0-5). Captain Zenon Konopka, whose Calder Cup experience includes a trip to the conference finals with Portland in 2006, has registered seven goals and 13 assists for 20 points in those 20 games, while defensemen Clay Wilson and Duvie Westcott have combined for 26 points and a plus-24 rating in that same span.

The Crunch are also 12-1-1-3 since Jan. 13 at the Onondaga County War Memorial at Oncenter, where they play seven of their final 10 games on the regular season.

In each of the AHL’s four divisions, the fourth-place team will play the first-place team in the division semifinals, while the second-place team plays the third-place team. There is one possible exception, however: if the fifth-place team in the West Division finishes with more points than the fourth-place team in the North Division, it would cross over and compete in the North Division playoffs.

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LATE MAGIC … Bridgeport and Worcester combined for one of the more bizarre finishes to a game this season in the Sound Tigers’ 5-4 overtime win on Friday at the DCU Center. The Tigers erased a two-goal deficit with four third-period goals, including the first career AHL markers by Tyler Mosienko and Tyler Haskins, the latter coming into an empty net with just 39 seconds left.

But remarkably, the Sharks bit back, getting goals from Ashton Rome (19:39) and Tom Walsh (19:57) in the final seconds to force overtime. Bridgeport center Matt Keith notched the game-winner with 34.1 seconds left in the extra session, allowing the Sound Tigers to accomplish the oddity of scoring an empty-net goal and an overtime goal in the same game.

HOME MARK AT RISK … Grand Rapids, which started the season with a five-game road winning streak, is just 7-20-1-3 in opposing rinks since that time. By contrast, the Griffins have posted a 15-9-1-1 mark at home since starting a franchise-worst 0-7-0-1 at Van Andel Arena.

Overall, the Griffins sport a 15-16-1-2 record at home with six contests still to play. Grand Rapids has never finished below the .500 mark at Van Andel Arena in franchise history, including the last six seasons as a member of the American Hockey League.

MILESTONES FOR ANDERSON … Chicago Wolves head coach John Anderson earned his 300th American Hockey League victory on Saturday, leading his club to a 3-1 win at San Antonio. It was also Anderson’s 500th win with the Wolves franchise, including four seasons in the International Hockey League.

Since joining the AHL in 2001, Anderson and the Wolves have a record of 300-207-42 (.585) in 549 regular-season contests. Anderson has also posted 47 Calder Cup Playoff wins, capturing the championship in 2002 and returning to the Finals in 2005.

ETC. … Since being recalled from Rochester on Mar. 11, rookie defenseman Mike Weber has a plus-12 rating in five NHL games with the Buffalo Sabres… Manchester’s Teddy Purcell (20-52-72) and Brian Boyle (26-29-55) are currently the top two scoring rookies in the AHL; the last teammates to finish 1-2 in the league in rookie scoring were future Stanley Cup champions Stephan Lebeau (70-64-134) and Benoit Brunet (41-76-117) of the 1988-89 Sherbrooke Canadiens… After completing his senior season at Mercyhurst College, Ben Cottreau made his professional debut on Friday and scored two goals in Albany’s 3-0 win at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton… Manitoba has hit the 40-win mark for the fourth year in a row… Following his hat trick in Sunday’s 5-3 win over Lowell, Alexandre Giroux has 19 points (9g, 10a) in 14 games since rejoining Hershey on Feb. 26… Four players have had a plus-5 rating in a game this season, with three – Albany’s Joey Mormina and Peoria’s Julian Talbot and Jim Jackson – accomplishing the feat just last week… On Friday night, Hartford scored three goals in the third period but dropped a 5-4 shootout decision to Philadelphia at the Wachovia Spectrum; next door at the Wachovia Center, the Wolf Pack’s NHL affiliate, the New York Rangers, scored three goals in the third period but dropped a 4-3 shootout decision to the Phantoms’ NHL affiliate, the Flyers.