WILKES-BARRE/SCRANTON 5, WORCESTER 3
Tim Wallace broke a 3-3 tie with 8:44 left in regulation and added a late empty netter, and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton became the first team to punch its ticket to the 2011 Calder Cup Playoffs with a 5-3 win over visiting Worcester on Saturday in front of 8,227 fans at Mohegan Sun Arena.
The Penguins won their third straight game and improved their league-leading record to 49-18-0-1 (99 points). Wilkes-Barre, which fell in the Calder Cup Finals in 2001, 2004, and 2008, has punched its ninth consecutive postseason berth.
Wallace notched his 19th and 20th goals of the season and reached the 20-goal mark for the second consecutive year after registering a career-high 27 for the Penguins in 2009-10.
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton goaltender Brad Thiessen earned his league-leading 30th victory of the season (30-7-1) with 19 saves on 22 shots in net.
Worcester trails Binghamton by three points for what could become a crossover playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
PORTLAND 4, HERSHEY 3 (OT)
Portland battled back from a 3-1 deficit in regulation, and Mark Parrish scored 2:51 into overtime to give the Pirates a huge 4-3 road win over Hershey on Saturday in front of a sellout crowd of 10,737 fans at the Giant Center.
The Pirates (42-18-5-2, 91 points) earned their second win over Hershey in less than two weeks and moved into a tie with Manchester for first place in the Atlantic Division, but Portland still holds five games in hand on the Monarchs.
Andrew Joudrey gave the Bears a 1-0 lead just 1:34 after the opening face-off. Portland’s Matt Ellis and Hershey’s Patrick McNeill traded power play goals to make it a 2-1 game after the first period.
Andrew Gordon stretched Hershey’s lead to 3-1 with another power play goal 8:08 into the second frame, but Paul Byron brought the Pirates back within a goal at the 14:37 mark. Portland rookie defenseman T.J. Brennan then tallied the equalizer on the man advantage with 5:50 left in regulation.
Hershey, which still extended its points streak to five games (3-0-1-1), will close the weekend by hosting Syracuse on Sunday.
BRIDGEPORT 2, MANCHESTER 1 (OT)
Justin DiBenedetto lit the lamp 1:37 into overtime to give Bridgeport a 2-1 lead over first-place Manchester on Saturday at the Webster Bank Arena.
The Sound Tigers trailed by a 1-0 count and appeared headed for another loss before Tony Romano tied the score with just 3:35 left in regulation, with defenseman Dylan Reese and rookie Rhett Rakhshani earning assists.
Nathan Lawson earned the victory with 38 saves in net for the Sound Tigers, who won for just the second time in their last 12 outings (2-7-0-3).
Bud Holloway staked the Monarchs to a 1-0 lead with a power play goal late in the second period, but Manchester dropped into a first-place tie with Portland in the Atlantic Division and has played five more games than the Pirates.
GRAND RAPIDS 3, ROCHESTER 1
Coming off a tough 7-2 loss to Lake Erie on Friday, Grand Rapids burst out of the gate with a 24-8 shots advantage in the first period, took a 2-0 lead as a result, and held on for a 3-1 win over visiting Rochester on Friday before a sellout crowd of 10,834 fans at Van Andel Arena.
Second-year pro Tomas Tatar, a second-round draft pick by parent-club Detroit in 2009, tallied a power play goal 5:34 into the game to put Grand Rapids on top. Veteran Chris Minard followed with a man advantage marker of his own at 16:59.
The Griffins maintained that 2-0 lead until Amerks forward Bill Thomas cut it in half with 10:13 gone in the third period.
But Rochester could not tie it up, and Tatar sealed the victory by burying his 21st goal into an empty net in the closing seconds. Griffins rookie goaltender Jordan Pearce (18-8-5) bounced back from a rough outing on Friday to turn aside 25 of 26 shots in the winning effort.
Grand Rapids now sits one point back of Hamilton for the North Division’s third and final guaranteed playoff spot, although the Bulldogs have played two fewer games.
CONNECTICUT 4, PROVIDENCE 3 (SO)
Francis Lemieux converted in the eighth round of a shootout to lift Connecticut to a 4-3 win over visiting Providence in front of 9,103 fans at the XL Center on Saturday night.
Dale Weise also scored in the shootout for the Whale, and goaltender Dov Grumet-Morris (9-3-1) denied seven of Providence’s eight shootout bids after making 34 saves on 37 shots through the first 65 minutes.
Grumet-Morris’s stop on Jordan LaVallee-Smotherman clinched the victory for Connecticut, which moved four points up on Worcester for the Atlantic Division’s third and final guaranteed playoff spot.
After taking a 1-0 lead on a John Mitchell first-period strike, the Whale surrendered three straight goals to fall into a 3-1 hole. But recent addition Derek Couture nabbed his first AHL goal of the season late in the second period, and Evgeny Grachev tied it up shorthanded with 3:26 left in regulation.
Providence dropped 10 points back of Connecticut for a playoff spot in the Atlantic.
ADIRONDACK 3, TORONTO 1
Adirondack carried a 2-0 lead into the third period and held off a late Toronto charge to take a 3-1 road win over the Marlies in matinee action on Saturday in front of 6,832 fans at Ricoh Coliseum.
Korbinian Holzer brought the Marlies within 2-1 at 9:09 of the third period, but they could not get closer and rookie Eric Wellwood clinched Adirondack’s victory with an empty-net goal in the game’s closing minute.
Adirondack goaltender Michael Leighton (9-10-3) earned the victory with 38 stops in net, the veteran’s highest total since also making 38 saves vs. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Jan. 21, a game in which he recorded his first win of the campaign.
The Phantoms collected their third straight win overall and finished 1-1-0-0 against Toronto this season, avenging a 5-1 loss in Glens Falls back on Nov. 11.
Toronto, meanwhile, saw its winless skid reach four games (0-3-0-1) and has totaled only four goals in those four contests. The slide comes at an inopportune time as the Marlies battle for a return to the Calder Cup Playoffs after missing the postseason in 2010.
The Marlies (34-28-1-9, 78 points) now sit one point back of Hamilton for the North Division’s third and final guaranteed playoff spot.
BINGHAMTON 2, SPRINGFIELD 0
AHL leading scorer Corey Locke tallied his 19th and 20th goals of the season, and Barry Brust pitched a 25-save shutout as Binghamton got back on track with a 2-0 win over visiting Springfield on Saturday at the Broome County Arena.
Locke, who leads the league with a career-high 80 points (20-60-80) in 61 games this season, broke a scoreless tie with a power play goal at 18:38 of the second period. The five-time AHL All-Star then added an insurance goal midway through the third period.
Brust (26-17-1) moved into a tie for the league lead with his seventh shutout of the season, stopping five shots in the first period, 12 in the second, and eight more in the third.
Binghamton won for just the third time in its last 11 games (3-7-0-1) and moved three points up on Worcester for the crossover playoff berth in the Eastern Conference.
The reeling Falcons have now lost 10 straight games (0-9-1-0) and managed just four goals in their last four outings.
ALBANY 6, NORFOLK 5 (SO)
Steve Zalewski notched the lone shootout goal for either side, and Albany earned a split of its two-game visit to Norfolk with a 6-5 win over the Admirals on Saturday at the Scope.
Albany goaltender and ex-Admiral Mike McKenna made 40 saves through the first 65 minutes and then stopped all five of Norfolk’s shootout bids, improving to 14-16-0 on the season.
The red-hot Chad Wiseman led the Devils in regulation with a goal and two assists, while Matt Anderson, Darcy Zajac, Zalewski, and defenseman Olivier Magnan also scored for Albany, which won for the sixth time in its last seven games (6-1-0-0).
Norfolk still extended its points streak to five games (4-0-0-1) and moved into a tie with Charlotte for third place in the East Division.
SYRACUSE 6, CHARLOTTE 2
Rookie forward Kyle Palmieri netted his second professional hat trick and added an assist as Syracuse cruised to a 6-2 win over visiting Charlotte on Saturday before 5,639 fans at the Onondaga County War Memorial.
Palmieri, who now shows 18 goals (18-18-36) in 50 AHL games for the season, registered his first hat trick since scoring three times at Hamilton back on Oct. 27.
Syracuse goaltender Timo Pielmeier earned the victory with 40 saves on 42 shots between the pipes.
Nick Dodge and defenseman Bryan Rodney tallied goals for the Checkers, who wrap up a four-game road trip on Sunday in Wilkes-Barre. Charlotte is now tied with Norfolk for third place in the East Division race.
OKLAHOMA CITY 4, CHICAGO 3
Oklahoma City jumped up to a share of third place in the wild West Division race on Saturday with a 4-3 road win over Chicago in the opener of a two-game set before 14,533 fans at Allstate Arena.
Barons forward Colin McDonald moved into a share of second in the AHL with his 32nd goal of the season, and Oklahoma City also received markers from Ben Ondrus, defenseman Bryan Helmer, and Jesse Glimbett, who scored his first career AHL goal.
Oklahoma City goaltender Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers (13-11-3) turned aside 21 of 24 shots to pick up the win in net.
With the victory, the Barons (36-25-2-7, 81 points) pulled into a tie with Peoria for third place in the West, one point ahead of fifth-place Texas and two up on sixth-place Chicago.
LAKE ERIE 3, MILWAUKEE 2
Lake Erie constructed a 3-0 lead by the midpoint of the third period and then held off a last-minute Milwaukee rally to emerge with a 3-2 road win over the Admirals on Saturday before 12,627 fans at the Bradley Center.
With their fourth straight victory and 12th in 15 games (12-3-0-0), the Monsters moved into sole possession of second place in the North Division, two points shy of front-running Manitoba.
The Admirals lost for the fifth time in their last seven games (2-3-1-1) and are now just two points up on Houston for first place in the West Division.
ROCKFORD 4, PEORIA 3
After a tame 40 minutes of hockey, Rockford’s offense scored three times in the third period to sink Peoria by a 4-3 count in front of 5,974 fans at the MetroCentre on Saturday.
2011 AHL All-Star defenseman Brian Connelly rounded out Rockford’s offense, rookie Brandon Pirri finished with two helpers on the night, and goaltender Alec Richards earned the victory with 29 saves on 32 shots between the pipes.
The IceHogs, who are likely to miss the playoffs for the first time in their four AHL seasons, nonetheless improved to 7-3-1-1 in their last 12 contests.
HOUSTON 5, SAN ANTONIO 1
Carson McMillan scored twice, Patrick O’Sullivan and Robbie Earl extended goal streaks, and netminder Matt Hackett turned aside 14 shots as the Houston Aeros beat the San Antonio Rampage 5-1 on Saturday night at Toyota Center in front of 11,273 fans, the largest crowd of the season.
Houston’s Justin Falk chipped in with a pair of assists as the Aeros pulled within a point of the first-place Milwaukee Admirals with the victory. The win was Houston’s third in a row and extended the team’s point streak to four games (3-0-0-1).
O’Sullivan scored his 17th goal of the season just 1:05 into the middle stanza on a backhand shot past Rampage goaltender Joe Fallon to make it 1-0. Earl connected at 8:49 for his 19th goal of the season to stake the Aeros to a 2-0 lead.
O’Sullivan (4-1-5) and Earl (3-0-3) have each now tallied a goal in three consecutive games for Houston.
McMillan scored a pair of goals just 19 seconds apart starting at 16:55 to put the Aeros up 4-0.
The Aeros and Rampage play the back end of a home-and-home set on Sunday in San Antonio.
ABBOTSFORD 2, HAMILTON 0
Abbotsford scored once apiece in the second and third periods, and goaltender Jean-Philippe Lamoureux made 21 saves for his second shutout of the season as the Heat blanked Hamilton by a 2-0 final on Saturday at the Entertainment & Sports Centre.
The Heat earned a sweep of their two-game set with the Bulldogs, extended their winning streak to three games overall, and moved within two points of Hamilton for the North Division’s final guaranteed playoff spot.
The teams played scoreless hockey through the opening period and nearly half of the second before rookie forward Greg Nemisz gave Abbotsford a 1-0 lead on the power play at 9:33, with assists going to Tyler Ruegsegger and defenseman Chris Breen.
Gaelan Patterson added an empty-net marker in the closing minute of regulation.
Lamoureux (8-2-2) had to make 11 of his 21 saves in the third period alone, having faced only 10 shots through the first two frames combined.
The Bulldogs lost for the third time in their last four games (1-3-0-0) and are now idle until next Friday, when they continue a six-game road swing in Rockford.