Chris Higgins‘s empty-net goal with 50.9 seconds left in regulation gave Hamilton a 4-3 victory over Syracuse on Wednesday night and wrapped up the final Calder Cup Playoff spot in the North Division for the Bulldogs.
Hamilton was 12 points out of fourth place just before the All-Star break, but has gone 11-2-1-1 in its last 15 games.
The winning goal came with Crunch goaltender Andrew Penner on the bench for an extra attacker. Syracuse needed to win in regulation to keep its playoff hopes alive.
Ron Hainsey scored twice and Tomas Plekanec had a goal and two assists for the Bulldogs. Yann Danis finished with 36 saves.
Penner stopped all 20 shots he faced in relief of Karl Goehring, but still takes the loss as the Crunch’s goaltender of record.
Hamilton will open its North Division semifinal series next Wednesday night in Rochester. The Bulldogs have lost three previous postseason meetings with the Americans.
Elsewhere on Wednesday:
Manchester took control of the race for the Atlantic Division title as Dustin Brown recorded a goal and two assists and the Monarchs cruised to a 5-1 win over Hartford… Kyle Wellwood scored two goals and added an assist to lead St. John’s over Rochester, 5-2… Barry Tallackson had a goal and an assist in his professional debut, helping Albany to a 5-3 win over Bridgeport… Ryane Clowe scored his team-leading 26th goal of the season in Cleveland’s 4-1 win over Utah… Brian Eklund made 29 saves to help Springfield defeat Lowell, 4-2… Brad Winchester scored twice as Edmonton won its home finale, 3-2 over Manitoba.