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AHL Weekly: 16 teams remain

WEEKLY RELEASE #27

AHL standings
|| Scores and schedules || League leaders

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … It took until the last weekend of the regular season for the 16-team postseason field to become clear, and all eight opening-round match-ups were not set in stone until the season’s final night. But now the stage is officially set for the 2011 Calder Cup Playoffs, with the curtain going up on Wednesday.

Only two teams – East Division rivals Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Hershey – knew their seeds heading into the final weekend of play, with the Penguins and Bears finishing first and second, respectively. Norfolk’s 6-3 victory at Connecticut on Sunday earned the Admirals fourth place and a date with the powerhouse Pens in the division semifinals; Norfolk is back in the playoffs following a three-year absence. Two-time defending Calder Cup champion Hershey will square off with the first-year Charlotte Checkers in the other semifinal in the East Division, which has produced a Calder Cup finalist in each of the previous seven seasons. The Bears are on a quest to become the AHL’s first back-to-back-to-back champion since the 1960-62 Springfield Indians.

Portland, which captured the Atlantic Division crown with their third triple-digit effort (103 points) in six seasons under head coach Kevin Dineen – is set to collide with Connecticut in one Atlantic Division semifinal, the clubs’ fourth postseason meeting in the last eight years. The Whale became the final team in the conference to punch their postseason ticket last weekend and will return to postseason action after missing out for the first time in franchise history in 2010. Manchester, which is in the playoffs for the ninth time in its 10-year history, finished second in the Atlantic and will take on Binghamton, which crosses over after its fifth-place finish in the East. The Senators are playoff-bound for the first time since Jason Spezza and Ray Emery led them to a division title in 2005.

It was much more of a battle than last season, but Hamilton earned its second consecutive North Division title in 2010-11 with a mark of 44-27-2-7 (97 points), beating out Lake Erie by one point for the division crown. The Bulldogs draw Oklahoma City in the division semifinals, as the first-year Barons (91 points) emerged from a fierce West Division battle to earn the crossover playoff berth and shift over to the North’s postseason bracket. Lake Erie and Manitoba are set to lock horns in the division’s other semifinal, as the fourth-year Monsters make their first-ever playoff appearance following a franchise-best 44-28-3-5 regular season.

The Milwaukee Admirals (44-22-6-8, 102 points) collected their fourth West Division title in eight years and extended their own AHL record by topping 40 wins and 90 points for the eighth year in a row. The Admirals, who won the 2004 Calder Cup and returned to the Finals in 2006, will open their postseason run against a Texas Stars squad which represented the Western Conference in last year’s championship series. And for the third time in six years, the West Division semifinals also feature a showdown between Houston and Peoria, both back in the postseason following one-year absences. The Aeros have held the upper hand to date, sweeping the Rivermen in 2006 and earning a seven-game triumph en route to the conference finals in 2009.

The AHL’s championship trophy is named after Hockey Hall of Famer Frank Calder, who served as the first president of the National Hockey League from 1917-43. During the 1920s, Calder was instrumental in guiding professional hockey into the mainstream of the United States’ major cities, including New York, Boston, Chicago and Detroit, while also helping form the American Hockey League in 1936.

The 2011 Calder Cup Playoffs get underway on Wednesday night with Game 1 between Houston and Peoria, while Thursday night’s action features series openers in Portland, Manchester, Hershey, Hamilton and Milwaukee.

2010-11 BY THE NUMBERS … Oklahoma City’s Colin McDonald entered the season with 34 goals in 226 career AHL games but racked up 42 tallies (42-16-58) in 80 games this year to claim the Willie Marshall Award as the AHL’s top goal-scorer… Baz Bastien Award winner Brad Thiessen of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (35-8-1, 1.94, .922, 7 SO) became the first goaltender to win more than 30 games while losing fewer than 10 since Hartford’s Jason LaBarbera in 2003-04 (34-9-9)… San Antonio’s Dane Byers set an AHL record by playing in 85 games this season – 21 for the Rampage, 48 for Springfield, and 16 for Connecticut… Shooters were successful on 30.8 percent of penalty shots (20-for-65) and 30.9 percent of shootout attempts during the regular season; the 2010-11 campaign featured 13 more penalty shot attempts than the 2009-10 season… Toronto extended beyond regulation 17 times this season, and 16 of those 17 ended in a shootout… The Marlies (0-1) were the only AHL team without an overtime victory, and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (4-0) was the only club without an overtime loss… With a 28-11-0-1 mark away from Mohegan Sun Arena, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton tied the 2007-08 Providence Bruins’ AHL record for most road wins in a season… Abbotsford matched a league record with 11 shootout victories (11-6), becoming the fifth team to reach that mark… All eight West Division clubs finished with at least 85 points, and since 2007-08, only two of 31 West Division teams have finished a season with a points percentage below .500… Binghamton owned the AHL’s top-rated power play (22.8 percent) for the second time in the last three years… Hershey (32-0-1-3), Providence (23-0-0-1) and Toronto (26-0-0-4) were the only clubs to go the entire season without suffering a regulation loss when leading after two periods of play… Average attendance league-wide was 5,379 fans per game, up 5.5 percent from the 2009-10 season.

FOLLOW THE LEADERS … Some of the statistical leaders for the 2010-11 AHL season:

Points86Corey Locke, BNG 
Goals42Colin McDonald, OKC
Assists65Corey Locke, BNG
Games Played85Dane Byers, CT-SPR-SA
Plus/Minus+29Sean Collins, HER
Penalty Minutes334Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond, ALB
Power-Play Goals19Colin McDonald, OKC
Shorthanded Goals6Dustin Jeffrey, WBS
Mike Carman, LE
Game-Winning Goals8Justin Azevedo, MCH
Alexandre Giroux, OKC
Overtime Goals3Jamie Arniel, PRO
Greg Rallo, TEX
Unassisted Goals5Paul Byron, POR
Oscar Moller, MCH
GAA1.93Curtis Sanford, HAM
Save Percentage.931Mark Dekanich, MIL
Wins35Brad Thiessen, WBS
Shutouts8Leland Irving, ABB
Saves1,549Barry Brust, BNG
Minutes3,437Leland Irving, ABB
Points (rookie)62Luke Adam, POR
Rhett Rakhshani, BRI
Goals (rookie)29Luke Adam, POR
Kyle Palmieri, SYR
Assists (rookie)44Erik Gustafsson, ADK
Points (defenseman)60Marc-Andre Gragnani, POR
Goals (defenseman)16Mike Kostka, RCH
Assists (defenseman)48Marc-Andre Gragnani, POR
Power Play %22.8Binghamton
Penalty Killing %86.1Toronto
Power-Play Goals81Binghamton
Shorthanded Goals13Grand Rapids
Syracuse
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton
Goals For280Portland
Goals Against183Wilkes-Barre/Scranton
Attendance392,005Hershey (9,800 avg.)

ETC.Peter Holland, drafted 15th overall by Anaheim in 2009, racked up six points (3-3-6) in his first three pro games for Syracuse last week… Abbotsford goaltender Leland Irving registered three shutouts over his last five appearances to finish with a league-leading eight whitewashes on the year; entering 2010-11, Irving had totaled two shutouts in 82 AHL games… Oklahoma City’s Colin McDonald notched his 42nd goal of the year with 2:32 remaining in Sunday’s season finale at Houston, breaking a tie with Hamilton’s Nigel Dawes for the league goal-scoring title… Toronto rookie Marcel Mueller returned from a 16-game absence last week and tallied seven points (5-2-7) in three games, including a three-goal, two-assist showing on Sunday vs. Abbotsford… Hamilton goaltender Drew MacIntyre closed the regular season by starting 21 consecutive games since being acquired on Feb. 28, posting a 12-6-2 record (1.89, .938) with one shutout in that span… Adirondack finished 25-16-2-6 under head coach Joe Paterson after going 6-23-2-0 prior to his Dec. 20 appointment… Charlotte’s Chris Terry, who has played all 80 games in each of his first two pro seasons, scored 17 goals as a rookie and then doubled that output with a team-high 34 for the Checkers in 2010-11… They both missed out on the postseason, but Rockford finished 2010-11 with 10 wins in its last 11 games and Syracuse was 11-3-0-0 in its last 14.