AHL Weekly Release: Playoff races heating up


ahl06_200.jpgSPRINGFIELD, Mass. … With four weeks remaining in the 2008-09 regular season, all 16 berths in the 2009 Calder Cup Playoffs are still up for grabs, and each of the AHL’s four divisions features compelling races to the finish as winter turns to spring.

The top four finishers in each division will qualify for postseason play, with one possible exception: if the fifth-place team in the West Division finishes with more points than the fourth-place team in the North Division, it would cross over and compete in the North Division playoffs.

The Milwaukee Admirals enjoy the largest cushion of any division leader, holding a 17-point edge on the field in the West as they gun for their first division crown since 2006 and third in the last six years. The Admirals have already become the first team in AHL history to post six consecutive seasons of at least 40 wins and 90 points, and with 14 games to play, still have a shot at their first 50-win campaign since joining the league in 2001-02.

After finishing fifth in rookie scoring in 2006-07 and fifth overall in 2007-08, Cal O’Reilly is working on another standout campaign with 67 points in 63 games for Milwaukee, while Drew MacIntyre became the first AHL goaltender to reach 30 victories with a 2-1 decision in Grand Rapids on Sunday.

Behind the Admirals, six teams are separated by only nine points. Houston has won 11 of its last 15 games to move into sole possession of second place, with defending Calder Cup champion Chicago just two points back. Peoria has won six of its last seven and is now tied with Rockford for fourth place and the division’s final guaranteed playoff berth. Iowa is just four points back of the Rivermen and IceHogs, and Quad City trails by six.

Despite dropping a pair of games to close the weekend, league-leading Manitoba still holds a five-point edge on Grand Rapids atop the North Division. The Griffins’ lead on third-place Hamilton, which was eight points when the calendar turned to March, has been cut in half thanks to the Bulldogs’ 6-2-0-0 run in their last eight games. Fourth-place Toronto is on a three-game winning streak but is still just five points up on fifth-place Syracuse, which has also won three straight and has points in seven of nine (6-2-1-0).

In search of its second straight Atlantic Division title, Providence has used a four-game winning streak to take a slim two-point lead on Hartford. The Wolf Pack have points in 11 of their last 13 (10-2-1-0) as they pursue their 12th playoff berth in as many seasons and first division crown since 2004. Just one point separates third-place Manchester (72) from Portland and Worcester (71), and Lowell (66) sits just five points back of the Pirates and Sharks. This week, Portland visits Manchester on Wednesday and Lowell entertains Worcester on Saturday.

Hershey reclaimed sole possession of first place in the East Division with a 3-2 win over Bridgeport on Sunday, but the Sound Tigers are just one point back as they look for their first division title since 2001-02. Defending division champion Wilkes-Barre/Scranton is just five points off the pace and still has three clashes with Hershey left on the docket. Binghamton, looking to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2005, shows an eight-point lead on Philadelphia in the race for fourth place, but the Phantoms hold three games in hand.

THE EXPERIENCE IS CLEAR … The Clear Day lists submitted last week feature 46 players who have won a Calder Cup championship in their careers, including 15 members of last year’s Chicago Wolves title team:

Marc Cavosie, BNG (2003)
Jon Sim, BRI (2005)
Mark Wotton, BRI (2006)
Matt Anderson, CHI (2008)
Joey Crabb, CHI (2008)
Arturs Kulda, CHI (2008)
Jordan LaVallee, CHI (2008)
Steve Martins, CHI (2008)
Joe Motzko, CHI (2008)
Ondrej Pavelec, CHI (2008)
Brian Sipotz, CHI (2008)
Brett Sterling, CHI (2008)
Aaron Downey, GR (1999)
Darren Haydar, GR (’04, ’08)
Francis Lemieux, GR (2007)
Marc Denis, HAM (1997)
Kyle Chipchura, HAM (2007)
Dan Jancevski, HAM (2007)
Brian Fahey, HFD (2008)
Dean Arsene, HER (2006)
Chris Bourque, HER (2006)
Bryan Helmer, HER (1995)
Graham Mink, HER (2006)
Tyler Sloan, HER (2006)
Tony Hrkac, HOU (2004)
Corey Locke, HOU (2007)
Jesse Schultz, HOU (2008)
Ajay Baines, IOW (2007)
Pascal Rheaume, LOW (1995)
Marty Murray, MCH (2001)
Mark Cullen, MTB (2003)
Guillaume Desbiens, MTB (2008)
Jason Krog, MTB (2008)
Brandon Segal, NOR (2004)
Josh Gratton, PHI (2005)
Boyd Kane, PHI (’05, ’06)
Mathieu Darche, POR (2004)
Danny Groulx, RFD (2007)
Jeff Hoggan, SA (2003)
Francis Lessard, SA (2002)
Wyatt Smith, SA (2004)
Derek MacKenzie, SYR (2002)
Dan Smith, SYR (1997)
Andre Deveaux, TOR (2008)
Jean-Philippe Cote, WBS (2007)
Deryk Engelland, WBS (2006)

Additionally, six AHL head coaches – Hamilton’s Ron Wilson, Hartford’s Ken Gernander, Hershey’s Bob Woods, Milwaukee’s Lane Lambert, Philadelphia’s John Paddock and Worcester’s Roy Sommer – have won Calder Cups as players, head coaches and/or assistant coaches.

There are also 11 AHL players on Clear Day lists who have won Stanley Cups in their careers: Bridgeport’s Jon Sim (1999); Chicago’s Joe Motzko (2007); Grand Rapids’ Darren McCarty (1997, 1998, 2002, 2008), Darren Helm (2008) and Aaron Downey (2008); Houston’s Tony Hrkac (1999); Iowa’s Drew Miller (2007); Lowell’s Pascal Rheaume (2003); Manitoba’s Mike Keane (1993, 1996, 1999); Quad City’s Anders Eriksson (1998); and Syracuse’s Steve Kelly (2000).

AHL standings
Scores and schedules
League leaders

GET SHORTY … The Rochester Americans tied an AHL season high with three shorthanded goals in Sunday’s 4-3 shootout loss to the Hamilton Bulldogs. Kenndal McArdle, Drew Larman and David Brine all scored with the Amerks down a man.

Coincidentally, the other team to score three shorties in a game this season was Hamilton – in a game vs. Rochester on Nov. 16.

ETC. … Hershey captain Bryan Helmer played his 900th regular-season AHL game on Sunday, becoming just the second defenseman – and 12th player overall – in league history to reach that milestone… With his assist on Saturday vs. Norfolk, Binghamton captain Denis Hamel shows 499 points for his AHL career… Charles Linglet, who posted nine points in 37 games with Peoria prior to joining Springfield on Feb. 18, already has 5-7-12 in 13 games for the Falcons… Patric Hornqvist’s eight-game goal-scoring streak ended in Milwaukee’s 5-4 shootout loss to Chicago on Saturday… Janne Pesonen surged atop Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s scoring list with eight points (2-6-8) in a two-game span last week… Hershey’s Graham Mink has reached the 30-goal plateau for the second time in three seasons and is one goal shy of the career-high 31 he scored with Worcester in 2006-07… At Copps Coliseum on Friday night, Hamilton scored at 19:03 and 19:26 of the third period to tie the game, only to see Michael Grabner win it for Manitoba at 19:51… In Saturday’s rematch, a 5-1 Hamilton win, the Bulldogs became the first team since Lake Erie on Nov. 24, 2007, to score five goals off Cory Schneider… Worcester’s 4-1 win over Hartford on Sunday marked the Sharks’ first regulation triumph over the Wolf Pack at the DCU Center in eight tries since Apr. 6, 2007… Houston’s power play has gone 23-for-72 (31.9 percent) in its last 15 games to jump from 14th in the league to second… Chicago scored three times in the first 1:56 of Friday’s 7-4 win over Iowa… Albany scored five goals in the third period of a 5-3 win over Norfolk on Wednesday, and allowed five in the first period of Saturday’s 5-4 loss to Philadelphia… Syracuse is 6-0-1-0 in its last seven home games and plays eight of its final 13 contests at the Onondaga County War Memorial… There were five crowds of 10,000-plus in the AHL over the weekend, led by 12,899 in Chicago on Saturday night.