AHL Weekly Release: Regular season in the books

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … The 2008-09 regular season came down to the wire, with five postseason berths still up for grabs entering the final weekend and the overall points title on the line as late as Sunday night. Now the stage is set for the 2009 Calder Cup Playoffs, which get underway this week.

The 1,160th and final game of the season saw Wilkes-Barre/Scranton defeat Hershey on Sunday evening, giving the Manitoba Moose the Macgregor Kilpatrick Trophy and the best record in the AHL at 50-23-1-6. Five teams won exactly 49 games this season, but only Manitoba hit the 50-win mark, and the Moose will begin the postseason with a first-round series against a Toronto team that has won six straight meetings between the clubs. Hamilton’s season-ending five-game winning streak included three victories over Grand Rapids, the Bulldogs’ first-round opponent in the other North Division semifinal.

Earlier on Sunday, Houston wrapped up third place in the West Division with a 6-4 win over San Antonio, sending the Aeros to Peoria for a first-round meeting and setting up a Milwaukee-Rockford showdown in the other West Division semifinal. Despite the second-place Rivermen’s 7-0-0-3 run to end the season, the Admirals won the West by 15 points, the biggest runaway by a division champion since Hamilton (26 points) and Grand Rapids (25 points) rolled in 2003.

Hershey wrapped up the East Division title on Saturday, setting up a first-round date with Philadelphia. The Phantoms roll into the postseason with an 11-3-0-3 mark in their last 17 games, including a 5-2 playoff-clinching win over the Bears in Friday’s regular-season home finale before 17,380 fans at the Wachovia Spectrum. The defending Eastern Conference champions from Wilkes-Barre will square off against second-place Bridgeport in the other East Division semifinal, the teams’ third first-round meeting in six years. The Sound Tigers finished the regular season on a five-game winning streak and with the best home record in the league at 29-7-1-3.

Hartford, 19-4-1-1 in its last 25 games, surged past Providence for the Atlantic Division title and set up a first-round battle with Worcester, which won eight of its last 10 regular-season contests. Portland edged the Sharks for third place thanks to a 7-2-0-1 record down the stretch and the Pirates, conference finalists in 2006 and 2008, will face the Bruins in the postseason for the fourth time since 2004.

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 2009 Calder Cup Playoffs get underway on Wednesday night with games in Providence, Peoria and Winnipeg.

2008-09 BY THE NUMBERS … Hershey forward Alexandre Giroux’s 60 goals were the most ever by an AHL left wing; no one else in the AHL finished with as many as 40 goals this year… This was the first AHL season without a 100-point scorer since 2003-04… Binghamton’s 91 points are the most ever by a team that missed the playoffs… Shooters were successful on 26.2 percent of penalty shots (17-for-65) and 34.3 percent of shootout attempts during the regular season… Rockford tied an AHL record with 11 shootout wins… Springfield’s Devan Dubnyk led the league in minutes played, shots faced and saves made, but his 41 losses were the most by an AHL goaltender since Al Millar lost 42 games for Quebec in 1959-60… Philadelphia (Oskars Bartulis, Matt Clackson, Sean Curry and Patrick Maroon) and Portland (Mathieu Darche, Colton Fretter, Mike Kostka, Marek Zagrapan) each had four players skate in all 80 games this season… Peoria’s Carl Corazzini, Wilkes-Barre’s Deryk Engelland and Hershey’s Kyle Wilson hit the 80-game plateau for the second year in a row… Hershey led the league in attendance for the third year in a row, averaging 8,987 fans per game at Giant Center.

FOLLOW THE LEADERS … Some of the statistical leaders for the 2008-09 AHL season:

Points 97 Alexandre Giroux, HER   Saves  1,730 Devan Dubnyk, SPR
Goals 60 Alexandre Giroux, HER   Minutes 3,635 Devan Dubnyk, SPR
Assists 71 Keith Aucoin, HER   Points (rookie) 67 Tim Kennedy, POR
Games Played 81 Petri Kontiola, RFD-IOW   Goals (rookie) 30 Nathan Gerbe, POR
Plus/Minus +42 Ben Lovejoy, WBS   Assists (rookie) 49 Tim Kennedy, POR
Penalty Minutes 324 Francis Lessard, SA   Points (defenseman) 65 Johnny Boychuk, PRO
Power Play Goals 22 Alexandre Giroux, HER   Goals (defenseman) 20 Johnny Boychuk, PRO
Shorthanded Goals 5 Greg Moore, HFD   Assists (defenseman) 45 Johnny Boychuk, PRO
Anders Eriksson, QC
Danny Syvret, PHI
Game-Winning Goals 10 Mathieu Darche, POR   Power Play % 22.7 Binghamton
Overtime Goals 4 Ryan Vesce, WOR   Penalty Killing % 87.0 Milwaukee
Unassisted Goals 6 Jonathan Matsumoto, PHI   Power-Play Goals 87 Binghamton
GAA 2.04 Cory Schneider, MTB   Shorthanded Goals 19 Hartford
Save Percentage .928 Cory Schneider, MTB   Goals For 296 Hershey
Wins 34 Drew MacIntyre, MIL   Goals Against 188 Manitoba
Shutouts 8 Tyler Weiman, LE   Attendance 359,499 Hershey (8,987 avg.)

ETC. … Led by seven crowds of more than 10,000 each, average attendance at the 30 games played over the final weekend of the regular season was 8,067, including Lake Erie’s season-high 17,627 fans on Saturday night… San Antonio, which was 2-20-0-1 at the end of November, finished the year 34-18-2-3 over its last 57 games… Atlantic Division champion Hartford was alone in last place on the morning of Nov. 30… Philadelphia rallied from 12 points back on Mar. 14 to make the playoffs… Peoria’s current 12-game home points streak (11-0-0-1) was the longest in the AHL this season… Playing in his 141st AHL game on Saturday, Worcester’s Thomas Greiss earned his first career shutout in the Sharks’ 3-0 win over Providence… Ryan Potulny tallied 11 goals and seven assists in his last 12 games for Springfield… Janne Pesonen set Wilkes-Barre franchise records for goals (32), assists (50) and points (82) in a season… Following Pekka Rinne last year, Drew MacIntyre is the second consecutive Milwaukee goaltender to lead the AHL in wins… The final five berths in the 2009 Calder Cup Playoffs were all clinched on Friday night… Krys Kolanos’s season-ending hat trick on Sunday earned a $5,000 donation to Bo’s Place, an organization that provides grief support to children and their families, from an anonymous donor who had pledged money for every point earned by Kolanos at Aeros home games over the last six weeks of the season.