AHL Morning Skate: Four teams look to clinch tonight

Every morning from now until the end of the Calder Cup Playoffs, the AHL Morning Skate takes a spin around the AHL ice with recaps and previews, news and notes, facts and figures, and the top headlines from around the American Hockey League.

Philadelphia at Albany, 7:00
Providence at Lowell, 7:00
Hartford at Manchester, 7:00
Binghamton at Syracuse, 7:00
Rochester at Toronto, 7:00
Norfolk at W-B/Scranton, 7:05
Portland at Worcester, 7:05
Manitoba at Hamilton, 7:30
Lake Erie at Chicago, 8:00
Milwaukee at Peoria, 8:00
Rockford at Quad City, 8:05

Click here for up-to-date AHL standings

1. Hartford and Providence have clinched home-ice advantage in the first round
2. Hartford clinches the division title with (a) a win at Manchester and a Providence regulation loss at Lowell
3. Portland clinches a playoff berth with (a) a win at Worcester and a Manchester loss (regulation/OT/SO) vs. Hartford; or (b) an OTL/SOL at Worcester and a Manchester regulation loss vs. Hartford
4. Worcester clinches a playoff berth with (a) a win vs. Portland and a Manchester loss (regulation/OT/SO) vs. Hartford; or (b) an OTL/SOL vs. Portland and a Manchester regulation loss vs. Hartford

1. Hershey, Bridgeport and W-B/Scranton have all clinched playoff berths

1. Manitoba has clinched first place
2. Grand Rapids and Hamilton will finish second and third (in either order), and will play each other in the first round beginning Friday, Apr. 17

1. Milwaukee has clinched first place
2. Peoria clinches second place with a win vs. Milwaukee
3. Rockford clinches a playoff berth with a point at Quad City
4. Houston clinches a playoff berth with a Quad City loss (regulation/OT/SO) vs. Rockford

GAME NOTES (all times ET):
Philadelphia at Albany, 7:00
Philadelphia brings a six-game winning streak into its final match-up with Albany at the Times Union Center tonight… The Phantoms are 10-2-0-2 since Mar. 14, turning a 12-point deficit into a one-point lead over Binghamton for the East Division’s last playoff spot… Reigning Reebok/AHL player of the week David Laliberte shows six points (5-1-6) in six games against Albany this season, and Phantoms goaltender Scott Munroe is 4-2-0 (1.34, .957) with two shutouts against the Rats… Albany is winless in eight straight games (0-7-0-1) since a 2-0 win over Philadelphia on Mar. 22… Jerome Samson is on a five-game scoring streak (2-6-8), and rookie Cory Quirk has six points (4-2-6) in his first eight professional games for the River Rats.

Providence at Lowell, 7:00
Providence looks to stay in the hunt for its second straight Atlantic Division title with a visit to Lowell tonight… The Bruins sit two points back of Hartford for the top spot with three games to play… The B’s have not been to Tsongas Arena since capturing a 5-1 win on Jan. 31 and are 4-5-0-0 against the Devils on the campaign… Vladimir Sobotka has a goal in four of his last five games (4-2-6) for Providence… Rookie Mikko Lehtonen scored twice in the Bruins’ 3-2 win over Manchester on Sunday… Providence goaltender Tuukka Rask is tied for the AHL lead with 32 victories (32-20-4, 2.51, .915)… Devils leading scorer Jon DiSalvatore (20-33-53) is averaging a point per game against the Bruins this season (4-5-9 in 9 GP).

Hartford at Manchester, 7:00
Manchester hosts Hartford in the division rivals’ final regular-season meeting of the campaign… The Monarchs have made the playoffs in each of their first seven seasons but currently sit three points back of Worcester for the Atlantic’s final entry… Captain Marty Murray shows a team-high 53 points (15-38-53) in 73 games for Manchester, which is just 3-7-0-2 since reeling off six straight wins from Feb. 28 to Mar. 8… The Monarchs’ Trevor Lewis has five points (2-3-5) in his last four outings… Hartford can clinch its first division title since 2004 with a win and a Providence regulation loss… The Wolf Pack boast two of the AHL’s top scorers in First Team AHL All-Star Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau (29-49-78) and Artem Anisimov (35-43-78).

Binghamton at Syracuse, 7:00
Intra-state rivals Binghamton and Syracuse clash for the first time since Dec. 30 in a pivotal game for both clubs’ postseason hopes… The Senators and Crunch each sit one point out of a playoff spot in their respective divisions heading into the season’s final week… Binghamton is 5-0-1-1 in the season series thus far… Greg Mauldin (2-1-3) and Mark Bomersback (2-0-2) each has a goal in two straight games for the Sens, and captain Denis Hamel has a point in three of four (1-3-4)… Binghamton continues to boast the AHL’s top power play at 23.2 percent… The Crunch are 9-3-0-1 since Mar. 11… Derek MacKenzie is on a six-game scoring streak (1-6-7) for the Crunch, and Alexandre Picard has tallied a goal in four of his last five outings (4-0-4).

Rochester at Toronto, 7:00
Toronto looks to solidify its hold on fourth place in the North Division when it hosts last-place Rochester tonight… The Marlies, one point up on Syracuse, are coming off a pair of wins at league-leading Manitoba last weekend… Goaltender Justin Pogge stopped 60 of 63 shots (.952) in those victories and is 4-1-0 (2.18, .910) against the Amerks this season… Toronto’s Tim Stapleton is without a point in consecutive games for just the second time since Dec. 21-26… Americans rookie Michal Repik has tallied seven points (3-4-7) in seven clashes with the Marlies in 2008-09… Toronto has the AHL’s second-best power play (20.4 percent).

Norfolk at W-B/Scranton, 7:05
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (99 points) goes for its AHL-record fourth consecutive 100-point season tonight in its first of two remaining matches with Norfolk… The Penguins are three points back of Bridgeport for second place in the East Division with two games in hand, and five behind first-place Hershey with one in hand… Pens goaltender John Curry is tied for first in the AHL with 32 wins (32-14-1, 2.36, .917) and is 4-0-1 in his last five outings… Chris Minard has a point in five straight games (3-6-9) after going scoreless in his previous four… Wilkes-Barre/Scranton has outscored Norfolk 9-1 in two victories at the Wachovia Arena this season… The Admirals are without top scorers Zenon Konopka (17-40-57) and Brandon Bochenski (27-26-53), both on NHL recall with Tampa Bay.

Portland at Worcester, 7:05
Just one point separates Portland and Worcester for third place in the Atlantic Division as the teams clash at the DCU Center… The winner of this game clinches a playoff spot if Manchester fails to defeat Hartford tonight… The Sharks return home for their last three contests after winning four in a row on the road and taking six of their last seven overall (6-1-0-0)… Ryan Vesce paces Worcester with 69 points (23-46-69) on the season, including 13 in eight games against Portland… Sharks goaltender Thomas Greiss has matched a season high with his current four-game winning streak… The Pirates feature two AHL All-Rookie Team members in Tim Kennedy (18-45-63 in 70 GP) and Nathan Gerbe (27-26-53 in 54 GP)… Colin Murphy has 16 points (7-9-16) in his last 12 games for Portland.

Manitoba at Hamilton, 7:30
League-leading Manitoba travels to Hamilton for the first of three straight on the road to finish the regular season… The Moose are looking to avoid their first three-game losing skid since Feb. 20-22… Goaltender Cory Schneider (28-8-1) continues to lead the AHL in both goals-against average (1.90) and save percentage (.931)… Jason Krog has a point in nine of his last 10 games (7-9-16) for Manitoba… Hamilton can tie Grand Rapids for second place in the North Division with a win… Bulldogs rookie Ben Maxwell has averaged a point per game (2-5-7) against Manitoba this season… Fellow rookie Brock Trotter shows a goal in three straight games (3-3-6).

Lake Erie at Chicago, 8:00
Lake Erie visits Allstate Arena to take on Chicago in the teams’ first meeting since Nov. 19, when the Wolves captured a 5-4 victory in Cleveland… Both the Wolves and Monsters have been eliminated from playoff contention… Chicago is trying to halt a four-game losing skid and hasn’t won in regulation since a 7-4 decision over Milwaukee on Mar. 14… Joe Motzko leads the Wolves with 27 goals and 53 points, and rookie Spencer Machacek ranks second in both categories (23 goals, 47 points)… Philippe Dupuis is on a five-game scoring run (1-4-5) for the Monsters, and Chris Durno has a goal in three of his last four tilts (3-1-4).

Milwaukee at Peoria, 8:00
The West Division’s first- and second-place teams tangle when Milwaukee visits Carver Arena to take on Peoria tonight… The Admirals have clinched the division crown, while the Rivermen can wrap up the second slot with a victory… Yan Stastny has seven goals in his last seven games for Peoria and shows three decisive goals during the Rivermen’s current six-game winning streak… Manny Legace is 3-0-0 (0.38, .987) with two shutouts in his last three outings… Andreas Thuresson shows three goals and four points in his last three games for the Admirals, who are going for their third straight win… Mike Santorelli paces Milwaukee with 27 goals and 70 points this season.

Rockford at Quad City, 8:05
Quad City hosts Rockford needing a win to keep its playoff hopes alive, and it needs to be in regulation to prevent the IceHogs from clinching a postseason spot of their own… The Flames have posted a 5-1-0-1 mark down the stretch to stay alive… Quad City’s Kyle Greentree ranks second in the AHL with 38 goals (38-34-72) in 76 games… Defenseman Anders Eriksson has registered five points (1-4-5) in his last three games… Captain Tim Brent has a three-game scoring streak (0-4-4) for the IceHogs, who are visiting the I Wireless Center for the first time since Dec. 30… Pascal Pelletier leads Rockford with 29 goals (29-26-55) in 68 contests.


Gary Lawless, Winnipeg Free Press
It turns out Moose boss Scott Arniel is a pretty good hockey coach. But maybe an even better poker player. On Tuesday, Arniel was named winner of the Louis A.R. Pieri Memorial Award as the AHL’s outstanding coach for the 2008-09 season after voting by coaches and members of the media. Arniel was given a heads-up late Monday afternoon by AHL vice-president Jim Mill but when questioned by a reporter on Tuesday morning if he had any idea when the league would be announcing a winner, Arniel just wrinkled his forehead and said no. “I was sworn to secrecy,” said the 46-year-old after the news broke Tuesday afternoon.

Michael Zuidema, Grand Rapids Press
If the American Hockey League playoffs started last weekend, the Grand Rapids Griffins already would trail the Hamilton Bulldogs two games to none. In a preview of their upcoming playoff showdown, the Bulldogs beat the Griffins 6-3 and 4-2 at Hamilton. The teams will meet one last time in the regular season Friday night at Van Andel Arena. The game is sold out. “We’ll get one more look Friday,” Grand Rapids coach Curt Fraser said. “Which I think everybody in our locker room is really excited to get going.” The Griffins (43-23-6-6) are two points ahead of the Bulldogs (46-27-4-0) for second place in the North Division and home-ice advantage in the playoffs. Hamilton, however, owns the tiebreaker with more wins.

Phil Janack, Daily Gazette
At a time when the Albany River Rats could use a little pick-me-up, the return of Jonathan Paiement may be just the thing. The 24-year-old defenseman will be in the lineup tonight at the Times Union Center, when Albany hosts the Philadelphia Phantoms, looking to end a season-high eight-game winless streak. Paiement was one of four players, along with radio color analyst John Hennessy, who were hospitalized overnight following the Rats team bus crash on Feb. 19 in western Massachusetts. Having suffered a concussion along with cuts to his eye, face and hands, Paiement will be the first of the five men to return to full-time work. “I’m pretty glad. It’s been a long time,” Paiement said following practice Tuesday morning.

Michael Sharp, Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin
It’s not the one point that separates Binghamton and Philadelphia in this playoff race, or the one week that remains in the American Hockey League’s regular season. No, when the Binghamton Senators take the ice tonight in Syracuse, in a showdown of two teams in identically urgent situations, coach Curtis Hunt wants his players focused on another singular thought. One shift. “The only thing important is your next shift,” Hunt said. “That’s it. You get thinking about Philly, or you get thinking about Game 3, or having to win every shift or every game, you’re in trouble. We need to think about the next shift, and build on the last one or correct things from the last one.”

Dave Eminian, Peoria Journal-Star
Ten consecutive home victories. A 13-2-2 record for an .824 points-making percentage in their last 17 outings. Those numbers don’t tell the whole story for the Peoria Rivermen, but they do point to a team that has become a headliner in the AHL stretch run. They have played themselves from seventh place in the West Division a few weeks ago to second place. They have a magic number of two points (against Rockford and Houston) to clinch the No. 2 seed in the division and home-ice advantage in the opening round of the playoffs. “It’s been a collective effort,” Rivermen coach Davis Payne said. “It’s not one guy, it’s not one line, it’s not one defense pairing. They have come together and gotten the job done.”

Tarik El-Bashir, Washington Post
When Keith Aucoin saw Alex Ovechkin glance his way, one thought crossed his mind: Don’t blow it. “I saw Alex with the puck and I got a little nervous,” Aucoin said. “That was my first time getting a pass from him, so I had to get him on my good side.” Aucoin made no mistake when the reigning most valuable player’s cross-crease pass arrived, burying it to even the score at 2 in the Washington Capitals’ 6-4 victory over the Atlanta Thrashers on Sunday. With four points in four games on his current stint in Washington, Aucoin has helped provide secondary scoring, injected energy into a lineup that was in need of a boost and given Coach Bruce Boudreau another option to mull over as he prepares to set his lineup for the playoffs, which begin next week.

The Ottawa Senators announced this morning that Cory Clouston has been signed to a two-year contract to remain the team’s head coach through 2010-11… 2005 AHL All-Star Eric Staal recorded three goals and an assist in Carolina’s 9-0 win over the N.Y. Islanders last night in Raleigh… Davis Drewiske tallied an assist for his first NHL point as Los Angeles defeated Edmonton, 2-1… On Monday, Matt Pelech notched an assist in his second career NHL game, helping Calgary to a 4-1 win over the Kings.

4 – Teams who did not qualify for the AHL postseason last year who have already clinched berths in the 2009 Calder Cup Playoffs: Bridgeport, Grand Rapids, Hamilton and Peoria)

April 8, 2006Donald MacLean records five points, including his fifth hat trick of the season, to lead Grand Rapids to a 6-0 win at Syracuse.

April 8, 1991 – Bryan Erickson scores his third consecutive game-winning goal and second overtime marker as the Moncton Hawks take a 3-0 series lead with a 5-4 win over the Cape Breton Oilers.

April 8, 1980 – Bruce Boudreau scores the winning goal as the New Brunswick Hawks open the Calder Cup Playoffs with a 3-1 win over the Adirondack Red Wings.

April 8, 1939 – The Cleveland Barons win the first of their nine Calder Cup championships, riding Moe Roberts’ 38-save shutout to a 1-0 win over the Philadelphia Ramblers in front of 11,421 fans at the Cleveland Arena.

Don’t miss a step on the road to the 2009 Calder Cup Playoffs. AHL Live brings AHL action to your computer all season long with live video webcasts and highlights of every AHL game, as well as behind-the-scenes features and interviews in the Video On Demand section… Visit theahl.com or ahllive.com for details.