SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … News and notes from around the American Hockey League, where the 76th Calder Cup Playoffs begin Thursday:
FANTASTIC FINISH … After a scintillating end to the regular season, the 2012 Calder Cup Playoffs are ready to get under way on Thursday night. And with playoff-type games being contested down to the wire, many teams are heading into the postseason playing some of their best hockey of the year.
The 16-team field wasn’t set until the 1,140th and final game of the regular season ended on Sunday, when Houston held on for a 2-1 victory over Texas to grab the eighth spot in the Western Conference. Milwaukee and San Antonio also clinched playoff spots with wins in game number 76, and Rochester got the help it needed after closing out its schedule with a win at Lake Erie on Saturday. The Americans went 13-5-4-1 over their final 23 games, all with David Leggio starting in net, and made a final 4-0-2-0 push to make the playoffs despite entering the final weekend of the season in 10th place in the West.
Milwaukee, on the outside looking in every morning from Jan. 28 to Apr. 8, went 9-2-0-3 down the stretch to reach the playoffs for a 10th consecutive season and also extend its AHL record with a ninth straight 40-win season. San Antonio was 8-4-0-1 in its last 13, Houston earned points in seven of its last nine (3-2-2-2), and Abbotsford, which climbed into the fourth seed in the West, finished the regular season on a seven-game winning streak and a 10-1-0-2 run.
Over in the Eastern Conference, Syracuse and Manchester locked down the final two playoff spots with victories on Sunday. The Crunch, 14th in the East on the morning of Mar. 14, closed out the season on a 12-2-1-1 tear, with nine of those 12 wins coming by a one-goal margin. The Monarchs were 10-4-2-0 in their final 16 games, sweeping playoff-bound Connecticut, Hershey and St. John’s over the final three days of the season to reach the postseason for the 10th time in 11 years.
The hottest team in the AHL heading into the playoffs, of course, remains the Norfolk Admirals, whose winning streak reached the end of the regular season at a mind-boggling 28 games. With weekend wins at Albany, Binghamton and Adirondack, the Admirals carved out three more entries in the AHL record books: Norfolk’s 13 straight road wins and 28 road wins for the season both tie AHL records, and their 28 straight games with at least one point in the standings is one better than the Cleveland Barons’ 21-0-6 run to end the 1947-48 season. The Admirals won more games during the winning streak (28) than they did in their other 48 games of the season (27), and only twice needed to go beyond regulation, beating Syracuse in a shootout on Feb. 18 and Binghamton in overtime on Apr. 14.
The best-of-five conference quarterfinal round of the 2012 Calder Cup Playoffs gets started on Thursday night with series openers in Bridgeport, Toronto, San Antonio and Houston. First-round series are scheduled in either a 2-2-1 or a 2-3 format; in the event of a 2-3, the higher seed has exercised its option of playing either the first two games or the last three games at home.
ENDING WITH A FLOURISH … After being named the league’s rookie of the year and MVP earlier in the week – just the fourth player in league history to earn both of those honors in the same season – Norfolk’s Cory Conacher had one last exclamation point to put on the 2011-12 campaign. His hat trick on Sunday capped the Admirals’ 28th straight win, 4-2 over Adirondack, and gave the 22-year-old Conacher the Willie Marshall Award as the AHL’s leading goal-scorer.
It was the second year in a row that the Willie Marshall Award was won in dramatic fashion in the waning minutes of the season. Entering Sunday one goal behind Matt Fraser, Conacher tied the Texas rookie late in the second period, took the lead with the game-winning goal at 18:00 of the third and tacked on an insurance empty-netter for the hat trick. Last year, Oklahoma City’s Colin McDonald broke a tie with Nigel Dawes for the league lead with 2:32 left in the Barons’ season finale.
Conacher (39) and Fraser (37) are the first rookies in the 76-year history of the AHL ever to finish 1-2 in goals.
FOLLOW THE LEADERS … Some of the statistical leaders in the AHL for the 2011-12 regular season:
|Points||93||Chris Bourque, HER|
|Goals||39||Cory Conacher, NOR|
|Assists||66||Chris Bourque, HER|
|Games Played||76||28 players tied|
|Plus/Minus||+34||Trevor Smith, NOR|
|Penalty Minutes||268||Zack FitzGerald, HAM|
|Power-Play Goals||19||Ryan Potulny, HER|
|Shorthanded Goals||5||Chris Bourque, HER
Stefan Legein, MCH
Hunter Tremblay, OKC
|Game-Winning Goals||10||Mark Mancari, CHI|
|Overtime Goals||3||Chris Mueller, MIL
Mike Zigomanis, TOR
|Unassisted Goals||5||Justin Azevedo, MCH
Krys Kolanos, ABB
Anthony Nigro, PEO
Hunter Tremblay, OKC
|GAA||2.04||Ben Scrivens, TOR|
|Save Percentage||.932||Cedrick Desjardins, LE|
|Wins||32||Dustin Tokarski, NOR|
|Shutouts||6||Ben Bishop, PEO-BNG|
|Saves||1,579||David Leggio, RCH|
|Minutes||3,283||Jeremy Smith, MIL|
|Points (rookie)||80||Cory Conacher, NOR|
|Goals (rookie)||39||Cory Conacher, NOR|
|Assists (rookie)||41||Jason Akeson, ADK
Cory Conacher, NOR
Phil Varone, RCH
|Points (defenseman)||61||Mark Barberio, NOR|
|Goals (defenseman)||16||T.J. Brennan, RCH
Eric Gelinas, ALB
Clay Wilson, ABB
|Assists (defenseman)||48||Mark Barberio, NOR|
|Power Play %||25.5||Hershey|
|Penalty Killing %||88.1||Toronto|
|Attendance||375,146||Hershey (9,872 avg.)|
2011-12 BY THE NUMBERS … At 55-18-1-2 (.743), Norfolk tied the 1972-73 Cincinnati Swords for the fourth-best record in AHL history, behind only the 1992-93 Binghamton Rangers (.775), the 2009-10 Hershey Bears (.769) and the 1998-99 Providence Bruins (.750)… Chris Bourque became the third Hershey skater in four years to win the AHL scoring title, following Keith Aucoin in 2009-10 and Alexandre Giroux in 2008-09… Norfolk’s Dustin Tokarski, who went 32-11-0 and led the league in victories, did not play in a single shootout… Houston’s Jon DiSalvatore and Lake Erie’s Justin Mercier played every one of his team’s games for a second straight season… No AHL player reached 300 penalty minutes, for the first time since 1984-85… The three least-penalized teams in the AHL were the league’s three entries from the Lone Star State: San Antonio (987 PIM), Texas (983) and Houston (960)… Toronto led the AHL in penalty killing (88.1 percent) for the second consecutive season… Peoria’s Derek Nesbitt set an AHL record by going 7-for-7 in shootouts this season; David Krejci was 6-for-6 with Providence in 2007-08… Shooters were successful at a 30.6 percent clip in shootouts and 27.5 percent (22-for-80) on penalty shots this season… Regular-season attendance of 6,426,934 was the third-highest total in AHL history, and the average of 5,637 fans per game was up 4.8 percent from last season and up 10.5 percent from two years ago… Hershey led the league in attendance for the sixth consecutive season and increased their average (9,872) for an eighth year in a row… St. John’s sold out all 38 games at Mile One Centre in their inaugural season… The AHL’s official website (theahl.com) experienced all-time record traffic numbers both Saturday and Sunday as nearly 1 million page views were registered in the two days combined.
QUICK HITS … Abbotsford’s Krys Kolanos began the year with 16 points in his first eight games, and ended it with 18 points in his last eight… Casey Cizikas, who tied for the AHL lead among rookies with a plus-26 rating for the year, was even or better in each of his last 21 games for Bridgeport… Connecticut (Chad Johnson, Cameron Talbot, Manchester (Jeff Zatkoff, Martin Jones), Norfolk (Dustin Tokarski, Jaroslav Janus) and Rochester (David Leggio, Drew MacIntyre) were the only teams to use only two goaltenders all season… The Amerks also made only one in-game goaltending change, back on Dec. 30 vs. Hamilton… Manchester is the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference and will face regular-season champion Norfolk in the first round; the Monarchs’ parent club, the Los Angeles Kings, are facing the same task in the NHL against Vancouver… Houston is the only one of last year’s four conference finalists to qualify for the playoffs in 2012 (Binghamton, Charlotte, Hamilton)… Rockford, which finished 12th in the West, was 23-15-1-3 vs. playoff-bound teams (including 10-1-0-1 vs. Milwaukee) but 12-17-1-4 against non-playoff clubs… Six of the top seven offenses in the AHL were Eastern Conference teams; eight of the nine teams with the fewest goals against come from the Western Conference.