AHL Morning Skate: Playoff hopefuls short on time

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.

ALBANY 4, Philadelphia 3 (SO)
Providence 5, LOWELL 2
Hartford 4, MANCHESTER 3
Binghamton 4, SYRACUSE 3 (OT)
Rochester 5, TORONTO 4 (OT)
Norfolk 4, W-B/SCRANTON 3 (OT)
WORCESTER 2, Portland 1
HAMILTON 6, Manitoba 2
CHICAGO 5, Lake Erie 0
Milwaukee 2, PEORIA 1 (SO)
QUAD CITY 5, Rockford 2

1. Brett Sutter tallied two goals and an assist as Quad City kept its playoff hopes alive with a 5-2 win over Rockford.

2. Goaltender Drew MacIntyre made 37 saves and enjoyed a perfect shootout to help Milwaukee past Peoria, 2-1.

3. Ryan Russell netted a pair of goals to pace Hamilton to a 6-2 win over Manitoba.

Springfield at Bridgeport, 7:00
Hamilton at Grand Rapids, 7:00
Hartford at Lowell, 7:00
Providence at Portland, 7:00
Manitoba at Toronto, 7:00
Norfolk at Binghamton, 7:05
Hershey at Philadelphia, 7:05
Albany at W-B/Scranton, 7:05
Manchester at Worcester, 7:05
Syracuse at Rochester, 7:35
Chicago at Milwaukee, 8:00
Iowa at Quad City, 8:05
Peoria at Rockford, 8:30
San Antonio at Houston, 8:35

Click here for up-to-date AHL standings

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

1. Hershey, Bridgeport and W-B/Scranton have all clinched playoff berths
2. Hershey clinches the division title with (a) a win at Philadelphia and a W-B/Scranton loss (regulation/OT/SO) vs. Albany, or (b) an OTL/SOL at Philadelphia and a W-B/Scranton regulation loss vs. Albany and a Bridgeport loss (regulation/OT/SO) vs. Springfield
3. Philadelphia clinches a playoff berth with a win vs. Hershey and a Binghamton regulation loss vs. Norfolk

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
3. Toronto clinches a playoff berth with a win vs. Manitoba and a Syracuse regulation loss at Rochester

1. Milwaukee has clinched first place; Peoria has clinched a playoff berth
2. Houston clinches a playoff berth with (a) a point vs. San Antonio, or (b) a Quad City loss (regulation/OT/SO) vs. Iowa
3. Rockford clinches a playoff berth with (a) a point vs. Peoria, or (b) a Quad City loss (regulation/OT/SO) vs. Iowa

GAME NOTES (all times ET):
Springfield at Bridgeport, 7:00
Bridgeport and Springfield conclude their four-game season series tonight at the Arena at Harbor Yard… The host Sound Tigers bring a three-game winning streak into the contest and are just two points back of Hershey for the East Division lead… Jon Sim is riding a five-game scoring streak (4-6-10) for Bridgeport and is coming off a four-point effort (3-1-4) on Sunday vs. Albany… Trevor Smith tallied three points in that game (1-2-3)… The Sound Tigers are 27-7-1-3 at home this season… Falcons forward Ryan Potulny is fourth in the league with 35 goals (35-23-58) for the Falcons… Two of the teams’ previous three clashes this season extended to a shootout.

Hamilton at Grand Rapids, 7:00
Hamilton and Grand Rapids meet in a final tune-up before they clash in the North Division semifinals next week… Home-ice advantage in the series is still at stake, with the teams currently at 98 points but Hamilton holding four more victories… The Bulldogs are 12-4-2-0 since the beginning of March… Rookie Brock Trotter has a goal in four straight tilts (4-3-7) for Hamilton, and Ryan Russell shows three goals in his last two outings… Grand Rapids is trying to avenge a pair of losses in Hamilton last weekend… Darren Haydar is tied for fifth in the AHL with 78 points (31-47-78) in 77 games… Defenseman Brian Lashoff has a four-game scoring streak (1-4-5) to begin his pro career.

Hartford at Lowell, 7:00
Hartford can clinch its first Atlantic Division title since 2004 with a victory tonight in Lowell… The Wolf Pack are 18-4-1-0 in their last 23 games overall and have won three straight on the road… Artem Anisimov has registered 12 points (8-4-12) in his last eight games for the Wolf Pack… Patrick Rissmiller has tallied three points (2-1-3) in his last two games, and Mike Ouellette is on a three-game scoring run (3-1-4)… Hartford has scored a league-best 19 shorthanded goals, including 14 on the road… The Devils, who will miss the playoffs for the third straight year, are 5-2-0-0 against Hartford this season… Barry Tallackson shows seven points (3-4-7) in seven games vs. Hartford.

Providence at Portland, 7:00
Providence and Portland conclude their regular-season series tonight at the Cumberland County Civic Center… The host Pirates clinch the Atlantic Division’s final playoff slot with a point… Mathieu Darche had five goals and six points in a three-game span before being held scoreless on Wednesday at Worcester… Tim Kennedy paces all AHL rookies with 63 points (18-45-63) in 71 games for Portland… The AHL’s top two rookie goal-scorers – Providence’s Mikko Lehtonen (28-25-53) and Rookie of the Year Nathan Gerbe of Portland (27-26-53) – will go head-to-head… Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask is tied for the league lead with 33 wins this season (33-20-4, 2.50, .915).

Manitoba at Toronto, 7:00
A potential first-round playoff preview pits Manitoba against Toronto at Ricoh Coliseum tonight… The Moose have clinched the North Division crown, but the Marlies are just one point up on Syracuse for the division’s final playoff entry… Toronto has won five straight games over the Moose, including all three prior clashes in Ontario… Tim Stapleton has set Marlies franchise records with 49 assists and 76 points this season… Goaltender Justin Pogge stopped 60 of 63 shots (.952) as the Marlies took a pair of wins in Winnipeg last weekend… Manitoba is trying to halt a three-game slide, matching its season high… Moose forward Jason Krog ranks third in the AHL with 84 points (30-54-84) in 72 games this season.

Norfolk at Binghamton, 7:05
Binghamton continues its playoff push by hosting last-place Norfolk tonight… The B-Sens are tied with Philadelphia for the East Division’s final spot (91 points) but have one fewer win than the Phantoms… Greg Mauldin has scored a goal in three straight games (3-1-4) for the Senators, while defenseman Derek Smith has a point in four in a row (1-3-4)… Sens rookie Zack Smith has a goal in three of his last four (3-1-4)… Binghamton has the AHL’s top-ranked power play overall (23.1 percent) and at home (24.2 percent); Norfolk’s road penalty kill is tied for 28th in the league (77.9 percent)… Pete Zingoni has a goal in two of his last three games (2-1-3) for the Admirals, who will miss the playoffs for the second straight spring.

Hershey at Philadelphia, 7:05
The historic Wachovia Spectrum hosts its final regular-season game tonight, as a sellout crowd is expected to watch Philadelphia take on longtime rival Hershey for the 153rd time in team history… The Phantoms are battling Binghamton for the East Division’s last playoff spot, while the Bears are trying to lock down the division title… Philadelphia’s Jonathan Matsumoto (6-3-9) and David Laliberte (5-4-9) each has nine points in 10 games against the Bears this season… First Team AHL All-Star Alexandre Giroux leads the AHL in goals (57) and points (94, tied) for Hershey… Bears forward Chris Bourque has registered a point in 12 of his last 13 contests (7-15-22).

Albany at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, 7:05
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton begins a three-game weekend to close the regular season by hosting Albany tonight… The Penguins are 4-0-1-1 in their last six games and have clinched their record fourth straight 100-point season… Janne Pesonen has set a franchise record with his 78 points in 67 games, and his 30 goals are one short of a team record… Jeff Taffe shows nine points (3-6-9) in his last six games for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton… Pens goaltender John Curry ranks third in the AHL with 32 victories in 49 games (32-15-1, 2.39, .916)… Jerome Samson is riding a six-game scoring streak (2-7-9) for the River Rats, who will miss the playoffs for the first time since 2006.

Manchester at Worcester, 7:05
Manchester visits Worcester tonight needing a victory and a Portland regulation loss to keep its playoff hopes alive… The Monarchs have not missed the postseason since joining the AHL in 2001-02… Matt Moulson has a point in four of his last five outings (3-3-6) for Manchester, and defenseman Thomas Hickey, drafted fourth overall in 2007, has five points (1-4-5) in five games to begin his professional career… The Sharks are bound for the playoffs after a one-year absence… Captain Ryan Vesce has nine points (3-6-9) in six match-ups with the Monarchs this season and a team-high 70 points overall (24-46-70)… Worcester has won five straight games and seven of eight.

Syracuse at Rochester, 7:35
Arch-rivals Syracuse and Rochester kick off a season-ending home-and-home set at Blue Cross Arena tonight… The Crunch are one point back of Toronto for the North Division’s final playoff spot, while the Amerks will miss postseason action for the second straight year… The Crunch have posted a 9-3-1-1 mark since Mar. 11 and are 3-0-1-1 in their last five… Alexandre Picard and rookie Maksim Mayorov each have a goal in three straight games, and Derek MacKenzie is on a seven-game scoring streak (1-7-8)… Rochester’s Janis Sprukts shows seven points (2-5-7) in seven games against Syracuse this season… The Amerks are 3-7-0-0 in the season series but have captured three of five in Rochester (3-2-0-0).

Chicago at Milwaukee, 8:00
Milwaukee brings a three-game winning streak into its regular season finale against Chicago at the Bradley Center tonight… The Admirals have won the West Division and still have a shot at the overall AHL regular season title… Mike Santorelli leads the Ads with 27 goals and 70 points in 69 games, and he has a team-high 12 points (5-7-12) in nine games against Chicago this season… Andreas Thuresson scored twice and Ryan Maki had three points (1-2-3) in Milwaukee’s 3-2 win over the Wolves last Sunday… Chicago will miss the playoffs one year after winning the Calder Cup… Wolves leading scorer Joe Motzko (28-26-54) is averaging a point per game (4-3-7 in 7 GP) against Milwaukee for the campaign.

Iowa at Quad City, 8:05
Quad City looks to keep its flickering postseason hopes alive with a win over Iowa as the teams open a home-and-home set to end the regular season… To qualify for the playoffs, the Flames need a pair of wins this weekend and either Rockford or Houston to lose out in regulation… Quad City’s Kyle Greentree ranks second in the AHL with 39 goals (39-34-73) in 77 games and has 12 points (5-7-12) in 10 meetings with the Chops… Brett Sutter broke a 12-game drought with three points (2-1-3) vs. Rockford on Wednesday… Iowa is coming off consecutive shutout losses at San Antonio last weekend… Petteri Wirtanen has registered 10 points (5-5-10) in 10 games against Quad City this year.

Peoria at Rockford, 8:30
Rockford needs a point against intra-state rival Peoria to clinch its second Calder Cup Playoff spot in as many seasons… Tyler Mosienko shows four points (1-3-4) in his last three games for the IceHogs, and Evan Brophey (1-3-4) and captain Tim Brent (0-4-4) each have four points in their last four contests… Pascal Pelletier has notched four goals and seven points in eight games against Peoria this season… The Rivermen are trying to lock up second place in the West Division and home-ice advantage in the first round… Steve Regier (21-26-47), Trent Whitfield (20-30-50), and Julian Talbot (20-22-52) have all registered 20-goal seasons for Peoria.

San Antonio at Houston, 8:35
Intra-state rivals San Antonio and Houston kick off a season-ending stretch of three straight games against one another tonight at the Toyota Center… The host Aeros need just one point to clinch a playoff spot in the West Division… Corey Locke leads Houston with a career-high 75 points (25-50-75) in 74 games, and leading goal-scorer Krys Kolanos (26-20-46 in 43 GP) is back with the team following an NHL stint with Minnesota… The last-place Rampage are riding a five-game winning streak and are 8-1-0-0 in their last nine outings… Joel Perrault has netted 10 goals (10-4-14) in that span for San Antonio, including five game-winners.


Frank Seravalli, Philadelphia Daily News
Peter Luukko still can remember the reaction he received from peers after Comcast-Spectacor announced it had purchased an AHL franchise to skate in the Spectrum, back in 1996. “People thought that we were out of our minds,” Luukko recalled. “To put a team just 100 yards across the parking lot from the Flyers, an established NHL team, they thought we were nuts.” And tonight, as the Phantoms square off against Hershey in their final regular-season game 13 years later, Luukko would probably like to give the naysayers a poignant: “I told you so.” But the Comcast-Spectacor COO doesn’t need to say a word. The Phantoms, the Flyers’ AHL affiliate, speak for themselves in the form of two Calder Cups and multiple attendance records.

Sam Carchedi, Philadelphia Inquirer
It’s unlikely other American soldiers in Iraq have taken a route even remotely similar to that of former Flyers farmhand Ben Stafford. In about two years, Stafford, a 21st-century Renaissance man who graduated from Yale with a history degree, went from pro hockey player to medical school student to Marine. He also found time to marry his wife, Ali, during that span. Stafford, a forward who scored the winning goal when the AHL’s Phantoms captured the Calder Cup in 2005, was deployed to Iraq on Oct. 5 and is an infantry platoon commander as a second lieutenant.

Tim Leone, Harrisburg Patriot-News
Denny Arsene visited from western Canada a couple years ago and put the Wachovia Spectrum in perspective for his brother, Hershey Bears defenseman Dean Arsene. “Somehow, he came onto the bench for warmups and he was just blown away,” Dean Arsene said Thursday. “He said, ‘This is the bench where Gretzky sat, where Paul Coffey or Mark Messier sat. [The Philadelphia Flyers] won those Stanley Cups. There’s so much tradition in here.’ To be able to play the last game in there is pretty special.” The Flyers and Sixers authored most of the building’s athletic history. But it is primarily the Phantoms who have given the place life since 1996, and it’s fitting they close against the Bears.

Michael Sharp, Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin
Danny Bois was working three feet over from the biggest goal of the season Wednesday night, positioned out toward the front of the Syracuse net when Zack Smith punched home the equalizer with 3.9 seconds left. Goaltender Jeff Glass was on the bench at the time, having been pulled for an extra skater. And Josh Hennessy, his left thumb still in a cast, was sitting up in a corner of the Onondaga County War Memorial. The trio has been together with the Binghamton Senators since the throes of that last-place season in 2006-07, and Smith’s goal – followed shortly thereafter by Peter Regin‘s overtime winner – brought them from the brink of yet another spring without playoff to right back into the heat of this East Division race.

Kevin Provencher, The Union Leader
There is no room for error as the Monarchs enter the final weekend of the season in must-win games. Tonight at 7:05, the Monarchs are at third-place Worcester, which secured its playoff spot this past week. And tomorrow night at 7 p.m., the Monarchs host fourth-place Portland to close the regular season. The Monarchs are in fifth place in the Atlantic Division and only four teams will gain playoff berths. So with two games left in their season, anything short of victory and the Monarchs miss the playoffs for the first time in their eight-year history. They also need outside help since any point by the fourth-place Portland Pirates, regardless of how the Monarchs perform, eliminates Manchester. Portland plays host to Providence tonight.

Jonathan Bombulie, The Citizen’s Voice
In their 10 seasons in the AHL, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins have welcomed dozens of players who pursued their higher education in the Boston area. Brooks Orpik went to Boston College, Chris Kelleher to Boston University, and Noah Welch and Ryan Lannon to Harvard. This season, they’re going in a different direction. Two directions in fact. College teammates Joe Vitale and Brad Thiessen have joined the Penguins after finishing up their seasons at Northeastern, a school that went 25-12-4 this season and made the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1994.

Neil Milbert, Chicago Tribune
With the defending Calder Cup champion Wolves mathematically out of the American Hockey League playoffs going into their last two regular-season games, founder Don Levin is urging his team’s rabid fans to pile onto the Blackhawks’ bandwagon. “I tell every one of our fans: Root for the Blackhawks in the playoffs!” the Wolves’ president said. “Go, Blackhawks, go! I’d love them to see them win the Stanley Cup.” Levin is serious. Ever since the Wolves came into the Chicago sports world in 1994, he has been insisting what’s good for the Hawks is good for the Wolves, and vice versa. Now he has numbers to support that theory.

Rob Gray, Des Moines Register
Francis Wathier skated off the practice sheet, packed up and prepared for his momentous trip. Did he have the ring? Check. A road map? Check. It was October 2006, the primarily French-speaking Wathier was a rookie American Hockey League player for the Iowa Stars, and he was about to take the biggest step of his life: A wedding proposal to Isabel – at the “Field of Dreams,” no less. “She’s a big, big fan of ‘Field of Dreams,’ that’s her favorite movie,” said Wathier. “So one day after practice I left. I had just enough time to get there and drop to a knee down on home plate. It was pretty special. We made a round trip back and forth so I could be back for practice the next morning.”

Kevin Oklobzija, Rochester Democrat & Chronicle
The Rochester Americans can’t salvage their season in the record books. They can, however, feel a little better about the offseason and also provide a “thank you” to their fans tonight by defeating the Syracuse Crunch in the home finale. The Amerks (28-42-0-8) would like to get to 30 wins, would like to ride a three-game winning streak into the summer, and they’d also like to boot the Crunch out of the Calder Cup playoffs. Winning tonight, and also Saturday in the Onondaga County War Memorial, would complete that trifecta. “They’re our biggest rival and they played a pretty big part in us not making the playoffs, so we’d like to be spoilers,” defenseman Mike Caruso said.

Dennis Manoloff, Cleveland Plain Dealer
The Monsters are anticipating a sellout for their season finale Saturday night against Manitoba, chief operating officer Randy Domain said Thursday. Faceoff is scheduled for 7:30 in The Q. Domain said that, as of 11:30 a.m. Thursday, more than 17,000 tickets had been sold for the 40th home game. The Q holds 19,000-plus for hockey. Domain said the Monsters typically get a walk-up of 1,500-2,200 on a Saturday night.