AHL Weekly Release

AHL Standings || Scores and Schedules || League Leaders

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … News and notes from the week ending Apr. 14:

It is set up to be another fantastic finish as seven of the 16 berths in the 2013 Calder Cup Playoffs remain unclaimed heading into the final week of the AHL’s 77th regular season.

Six teams are in the hunt for the final three spots in the Eastern Conference, while six more are jockeying for the final four positions in the Western Conference. None of the 16 seeds have been locked in yet, and of the nine teams who have clinched playoff spots, six were playoff bystanders a year ago.

We do know that Providence (99 points), Springfield (95), Syracuse (93) and Binghamton (92) will, in some order, be the top four teams in the Eastern Conference and have home-ice advantage for their first-round playoff series. The Bruins and Falcons have locked up their respective division titles, while the Crunch and Senators could see the East Division crown come down to Sunday’s meeting between the two in Syracuse.

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (88) clinched its 11th consecutive Calder Cup Playoff berth with a victory on Saturday night at Mile One Centre in St. John’s – the same place the Penguins’ 2012 playoff run had been snuffed out in a conference semifinal Game 7 loss to the IceCaps. Wilkes-Barre hits the final weekend on a seven-game winning streak.

Portland (81) and Norfolk (79) control their own fates: win and they’re in. Portland enters the final week on a season-long four-game losing streak, but the Pirates need to earn just three points out of their four remaining games to lock up the first postseason trip for a Phoenix Coyotes affiliate since 2008. Norfolk has been one of the hottest teams in the AHL over the past two months: ranked last in the conference on the morning of Feb. 6, the Admirals are 19-8-2-0 since then and can secure a postseason return with another successful weekend.

Connecticut (79) is tied with Norfolk for seventh place in the East, but with only two games remaining the Whale need some outside help in addition to taking care of business themselves. Manchester (77) and Hershey (77) are both two points out of eighth with three-game weekends looming, including Sunday’s showdown against each other at Giant Center. And Bridgeport (73) sits six points out of eighth place but with four games left, including three against Portland.

Texas (95 points), Toronto (89), Grand Rapids (88) and Charlotte (88) have all locked up playoff spots in the Western Conference, but just eight points separate the second-place Marlies from 10th-place Chicago heading into the final week, and only the Stars, the South Division champions, are guaranteed a top-four finish.

Toronto leads Rochester (86) by three points atop the North Division, and Friday’s matchup between the two at the Blue Cross Arena could go a long way towards determining the division champ. Houston (86), currently fifth in the conference, finishes its schedule with a three-game road trip, including a Sunday visit to seventh-place Oklahoma City (85). Rockford (83) is currently eighth, but with only two games remaining, the IceHogs will be doing a lot of scoreboard watching this weekend also.

Milwaukee (81) and Chicago (81) begin the week tied for ninth place in the Western Conference, but two big head-to-meetings – Tuesday at the BMO Harris Bradley Center and Saturday at Allstate Arena – could open the door for one (or both) of them to join the Calder Cup party.

The 2013 Calder Cup Playoffs begin next week with the best-of-five conference quarterfinal round. The conference semifinals, conference finals and Calder Cup Finals will all be best-of-seven series.

Following are the tiebreaking procedures used in the event of a tie in the standings following the completion of the regular season on Sunday:

Between two teams:
a) wins (excluding shootout wins)
b) points in season series between teams
c) goal differential
d) goals scored in season series between teams
e) intra-conference points percentage

Among three or more teams:
a) wins (excluding shootout wins)
b) points percentage in combined season series
c) goal differential
d) goal differential in combined season series
e) intra-conference points percentage

Charlotte forward Nicolas Blanchard completed his long road to the National Hockey League when he made his debut with the Carolina Hurricanes last Thursday.

Blanchard, 25, is a sixth-year pro who was a sixth-round draft pick by Carolina in 2005. He played 403 regular-season games and 36 playoff contests with Carolina’s AHL affiliates in Albany and Charlotte before suiting up for his first NHL game with the Hurricanes in Washington on Apr. 11.

The native of Granby, Que., was one of five AHL players to make his NHL debut last week, a group that included last year’s Eddie Shore Award winner Mark Barberio. (See below for full list.)

Last weekend’s home-and-home series between the Lake Erie Monsters and Hamilton Bulldogs featured not one but two pairs of brothers facing off against each other.

Hamilton natives Kyle Hagel and Marc Hagel lined up on opposite sides at Copps Coliseum on Friday night, with the younger Marc appearing in just his third professional game after signing a tryout with Lake Erie out of Miami University. Kyle scored a goal for the Bulldogs but Marc notched an assist for his first pro point and his Monsters rolled to a 6-2 victory.

It didn’t look like third-year Lake Erie defenseman Joel Chouinard would get the chance to skate against his younger brother Jacob Gervais-Chouinard, who dressed as Hamilton’s back-up goaltender for Friday’s game. But after the Monsters scored four times in the first 12:50 of the game, Gervais-Chouinard got the call and made his professional debut in relief of Dustin Tokarski. A three-time 20-game winner in the QMJHL, Gervais-Chouinard, who signed a tryout with the Bulldogs on Mar. 29, went on to stop 17 of 19 shots in the contest, and later made 36 saves in his first AHL start vs. Oklahoma City on Sunday.

Less than a second from a shutout victory, the Binghamton Senators wound up dropping a 2-1 decision to the Adirondack Phantoms after a lengthy 15-round shootout on Sunday in Glens Falls.

Garrett Roe’s goal with three-tenths of a second left in regulation tied the game, and after a scoreless overtime, the teams embarked on what would wind up one round short of being the longest shootout in AHL history.

After falling behind 3-1, the Phantoms would convert five times on must-score attempts, with Marcel Noebels (fourth round), Kyle Flanagan (fifth), Rob Bordson (sixth), Tye McGinn (ninth) and Brandon Alderson (11th) all scoring to extend the match. Finally, in the last half of the 15th round, defenseman Mark Alt played the role of unlikely hero and beat Marc Cheverie to give the Phantoms the win.

Playing in just his third professional game, Alt, whose father John was an All-Pro offensive tackle for the Kansas City Chiefs from 1984-96, had scored seven goals in 117 games over three seasons at the University of Minnesota –none in 39 contests this year.

Facing a virtual must-win game against Chicago, the Rockford IceHogs peppered Wolves goaltenders Matt Climie and Joe Cannata with 58 shots and came away with a 7-3 victory on Friday night.

Ben Smith notched a hat trick and added an assist for the IceHogs, Brandon Pirri tied AHL season highs with five assists and six points, and Shawn Lalonde set a club record with a plus-6 rating for the game.

Rockford’s 58 shots were the most by an AHL team in a game since Providence’s 59-shot barrage in an overtime win at Albany on Nov. 8, 2008; IceHogs captain Martin St. Pierre was in the Bruins lineup that night also. And the 58 shots were the most in regulation since Hartford took 60 of its 61 shots in the first three periods of a 3-2 overtime loss to Manchester on Jan. 5, 2007.

Updated every morning until the end of the regular season on theahl.com, the AHL Playoff Primer offers a snapshot of the current race to the Calder Cup Playoffs.

To check out the Playoff Primer, visit theahl.com and click on “Playoff Primer 2013” under the Standings link.

For the final week of the 2012-13 regular season, here are five match-ups to look forward to:

Chicago vs. Milwaukee, Tuesday (8 ET at Milwaukee) and Saturday (8 ET at Chicago) – Tied for ninth place and two points out of the playoff picture, Chicago and Milwaukee meet twice this week with a trip to the postseason very possibly on the line. The Wolves have alternated wins and losses in their last nine games overall (5-4-0-0) but have dropped eight of 10 to the Admirals this season (2-6-0-2), including four straight at home. Milwaukee rookie Austin Watson, just back from NHL recall to Nashville, leads all scorers in the season series with 7-4-11 in 10 games against Chicago.

Springfield at Providence, Friday (7 ET) – The top seed in the Eastern Conference could be at stake when Providence hosts Springfield on Friday night. The Falcons, who first visit Worcester on Wednesday, start the week four points behind the league-leading Bruins with three games to play. Springfield is one of only three teams to beat B’s goalie Niklas Svedberg in regulation at the Dunk this season; the rookie netminder is 19-3-2 and has won nine straight decisions on home ice.

Binghamton at Syracuse, Sunday (3 ET) – The East Division title could come down to the season’s final day, when Binghamton heads up Interstate 81 to visit Syracuse. The Crunch, who have lost six of eight under new head coach Rob Zettler (2-3-3-0), enter the week with a one-point lead over the Senators, the same number of regulation/overtime wins (38) and a 9-7 edge in the points in the season series through seven meetings. The Senators’ last division title came in 2005; the Crunch’s only first-place finish was in 2002.

Manchester at Hershey, Sunday (5 ET) – Manchester and Hershey both enter the week two points out of eighth place in the Eastern Conference, on a collision course for a final-day showdown at Giant Center. The Monarchs have defeated the Bears twice in the last four weeks, but the Chocolate and White have not missed out on the postseason since becoming Washington’s top affiliate in 2005-06. Jeff Taffe, who finished last week tied for the AHL scoring lead with 70 points, is bidding to become the Bears’ fourth scoring champion in the last five years.

Houston at Oklahoma City, Sunday (5 ET) – A logjam in the Western Conference sees six teams separated by five points seeking the final four postseason spots as the final week of the regular season gets underway. Two of those clubs – Houston and Oklahoma City – begin the week fifth and seventh, respectively, but fortunes could change by the time they meet in Sunday’s finale. The Aeros, coming off a 10-game homestand (5-3-1-1), finish the schedule with three road games in less than 48 hours, while the Barons are home for Abbotsford on Friday and Saturday before hosting Houston. The Aeros are 8-3-0-0 against Oklahoma City this season after losing 10 of 12 meetings last year (including a first-round playoff loss).

There have been 50 hat tricks and 160 shutouts recorded in the American Hockey League through Apr. 14, and 81 AHL players have made their National Hockey League debuts this season:

Last week’s hat tricks (4)
Ben Smith, RFD — Apr. 12 vs. Chicago
Brett Connolly, SYR — Apr. 13 vs. Rochester
Chad Kolarik, WBS — Apr. 14 at St. John’s
Joey Crabb, HER — Apr. 14 at Portland

Last week’s shutouts (8)
Alex Stalock, WOR — Apr. 9 at Bridgeport
Mike McKenna, PEO — Apr. 10 vs. Rockford
Danny Taylor, ABB — Apr. 12 vs. Toronto
Nathan Lawson, BNG — Apr. 13 at Albany
Michael Hutchinson, PRO — Apr. 13 at Springfield
Jeff Zatkoff, WBS — Apr. 13 at St. John’s
Yann Danis, OKC — Apr. 14 at Hamilton
Martin Jones, MCH — Apr. 14 vs. Worcester

Last week’s NHL debuts (5)
Mark Barberio, SYR — Apr. 9, Tampa Bay
Daniel Bang, MIL — Apr. 9, Nashville
Nicolas Blanchard, CHA — Apr. 11, Carolina
Jean-Gabriel Pageau, BNG — Apr. 11, Ottawa
Sami Aittokallio, LE — Apr. 11, Colorado

Jeff Taffe’s five assists and Hershey’s five power-play goals both tied AHL season highs in the Bears’ 6-3 win at Portland on Sunday evening; Taffe (18-52-70), who now has 499 career AHL points, moved back into a tie for the league scoring lead with Rockford’s Brandon Pirri (21-49-70), who had surged ahead after his six-point effort on Friday… Providence, 10-5 in shootouts this season, has gotten game-winning shootout goals from 10 different skaters… David Leggio’s nine shootout wins for Rochester tie the AHL single-season record, set by Leland Irving of Abbotsford in 2010-11… Charlotte rookie Rob Madore (4-3-0, 2.07, .945) has faced at least 44 shots in four of his seven starts… Peoria improved to 7-2-0-0 against Grand Rapids this season – including seven straight wins – with a 4-3 overtime win at Van Andel Arena on Saturday night… Scott Laughton, the 20th overall pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, scored his first professional goal in Adirondack’s 4-3 overtime win over Connecticut on Saturday… Abbotsford closed out its home schedule with 3-0 and 3-1 wins over Toronto, the Heat’s first back-to-back regulation victories since Jan. 20 and 25… St. John’s sold out its entire slate of home games for the second consecutive season, playing in front of 6,287 fans at Mile One Centre for each of its 38 outings… League-wide attendance is just over 6.2 million heading into the final weekend, and should wind up at the highest total and average figures since 2004-05.