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Division Finals previews

cc07_300.jpgSPRINGFIELD, Mass. … The field of 16 is nearly down to eight as the first round of the 2007 Calder Cup Playoffs concludes this evening while the division finals get underway.

At the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Manitoba and Grand Rapids will meet in a decisive Game 7 for the second consecutive spring. Last year, the Griffins rallied from a three-goal deficit to post a 5-4 victory and advance to the conference finals; Tuesday’s winner will earn a spot in the North Division final, where the Hamilton Bulldogs await. The Bulldogs knocked off Rochester in six games to advance out of the opening round for the eighth time in nine postseason appearances.

The Atlantic Division Finals begin this evening as well, with Manchester taking on Providence. The Monarchs ended a five-year drought and won the franchise’s first playoff series with a six-game triumph over Worcester, clinching the series on rookie Brian Boyle’s goal in double overtime of Game 6 and thwarting the Sharks’ attempt to come all the way back from an 0-3 series deficit. The Bruins made a little history of their own against Hartford, becoming the third AHL team ever to win both Game 6 and Game 7 of a playoff series on the road.

The West Division champion Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights saw their first taste of Calder Cup Playoff action end in a six-game loss to the Iowa Stars. The Stars, who pushed first-place Milwaukee to seven games before bowing out last year, move on to face the Chicago Wolves, who swept the Admirals in the division semifinals and have now won 11 of their 14 Calder Cup Playoff series all-time. Chicago hosts Iowa in Game 1 on Wednesday.

And Hershey takes on Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in the East Division final for the second postseason in a row, the Penguins looking to avenge last year’s four-game sweep at the hands of the eventual Calder Cup champions. The Bears ousted Albany in five tough games in the first round, while Wilkes-Barre took care of Norfolk in six. Game 1 is Wednesday night in Hershey.

DIVISION SEMIFINAL NOTES … Heading into Game 7 of the Moose-Griffins series, 23 of the 46 games (50.0 percent) played in the first round were decided by a single goal… Manchester’s John Zeiler, Chicago’s Brett Sterling, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s Jonathan Filewich and Grand Rapids’ Matt Ellis (through Game 6) each had two game-winning goals in the opening round… Regular-season MVP Darren Haydar scored a goal in each game of Chicago’s sweep of Milwaukee… Providence’s Ben Walter recorded the first Game 7 hat trick in the AHL since Hartford’s Vladimir Vorobiev in 1998… Hartford’s Nigel Dawes (5g, 6a) and Alex Bourret (3g, 8a) recorded 11 points each in the Wolf Pack’s seven-game loss to Providence, tying a single-series franchise record set by Marc Savard in 1998… Attention, Chicago: since 2000, 12 of the 16 teams who have swept a best-of-seven series have gone on to lose in the next round.