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Division finals previews

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … The original field of 16 has been reduced to eight as the Division Finals round of the 2011 Calder Cup Playoffs gets underway tonight.

The division semifinals featured comebacks, upsets and seven series that extended to at least six games, a first round that was capped off on Tuesday night when visiting Manitoba knocked out Lake Erie, 4-1, before 10,277 fans in the first AHL Game 7 played in Cleveland since 1959. The Moose rallied from being down three games to one to advance and match the feat accomplished in even more dramatic fashion over in the Atlantic Division by the Binghamton Senators, who needed overtime in Games 5, 6 and 7 to take out Manchester. Ryan Potulny recorded five points – including the game-winning overtime goal – in the clincher for Binghamton and led all AHL scorers with eight goals and 14 points in the first round.

Binghamton draws Portland in the Atlantic Division finals after the Pirates eliminated Connecticut in six games. The Pirates, who lost Eddie Shore Award winner Marc-Andre Gragnani and top goaltender Jhonas Enroth to NHL recall for the duration of the series, let a two-games-to-none lead slip away before harpooning the Whale in Games 5 and 6. It was the first series victory for a Buffalo affiliate since Rochester reached the second round in 2005. In the East Division, regular-season champion Wilkes-Barre/Scranton spotted Norfolk a 2-0 series lead after dropping the first two games at home, then rallied for four straight wins to knock off the Admirals. The Penguins will take on Charlotte after the Checkers ended Hershey’s two-year reign as Calder Cup champions with a six-game triumph over the Bears. The Apr. 24 ouster marked Hershey’s earliest exit in six years.

Manitoba’s seven-game victory over Lake Erie sends the Moose on to a second-round battle with Hamilton, a playoff foe for the fourth time in nine years. Manitoba and Hamilton battled down to the wire for the North Division title in the regular season, but the Bulldogs – who got past upstart Oklahoma City in six games in the division semifinals – were 6-0-0-2 against the Moose head-to-head. In the West Division, Milwaukee needed dramatic overtime wins in Games 5 and 6 to dispose of defending conference champion Texas while Houston had the easiest road to the second round, sweeping away Peoria in four straight.

DIVISION SEMIFINAL NOTES … Prior to last spring, only three teams in AHL history had ever won Games 6 and 7 of a series on the road; it has now happened four times in the last two postseasons alone (Abbotsford and Texas in 2010, Binghamton and Manitoba in 2011)… Binghamton became the second team in AHL history to win four OT games in one series, as well as the first crossover team to win a playoff series since Hershey reached the conference finals in 2001… The Senators’ playoff run nearly ended in Game 6 at Manchester but Robin Lehner stopped Bud Holloway on a penalty shot during the second overtime period… Alexandre Giroux scored twice for Oklahoma City in the first round to move into sole possession of second place all-time with 52 career playoff goals… There were 12 overtime games in the first round, with road teams going 7-5… Of the eight cities hosting second-round action this year, only one – Hamilton – was in the second round last spring also.

Atlantic Division Final – Series “I” (best-of-7)
A1-Portland Pirates vs. E5-Binghamton Senators || Series Preview
Game 1 – Wed., Apr. 27 – Binghamton at Portland, 7:00
Game 2 – Thu., Apr. 28 – Binghamton at Portland, 7:00
Game 3 – Sat., Apr. 30 – Portland at Binghamton, 7:05
Game 4 – Mon., May 2 – Portland at Binghamton, 7:05
*Game 5 – Tue., May 3 – Portland at Binghamton, 7:05
*Game 6 – Fri., May 6 – Binghamton at Portland, 7:00
*Game 7 – Sat., May 7 – Binghamton at Portland, 7:00

East Division Final – Series “J” (best-of-7)
E1-W-B/Scranton Penguins vs. E3-Charlotte Checkers
|| Series Preview
Game 1 – Thu., Apr. 28 – Charlotte at W-B/Scranton, 7:05
Game 2 – Sat., Apr. 30 – Charlotte at W-B/Scranton, 7:05
Game 3 – Mon., May 2 – W-B/Scranton at Charlotte, 7:00
Game 4 – Wed., May 4 – W-B/Scranton at Charlotte, 7:00
*Game 5 – Fri., May 6 – W-B/Scranton at Charlotte, 7:00
*Game 6 – Sat., May 7 – Charlotte at W-B/Scranton, 7:05
*Game 7 – Mon., May 9 – Charlotte at W-B/Scranton, 7:05

North Division Final – Series “K” (best-of-7)
N1-Hamilton Bulldogs vs. N3-Manitoba Moose
|| Series Preview
Game 1 – Thu., Apr. 28 – Manitoba at Hamilton, 7:30
Game 2 – Sun., May 1 – Manitoba at Hamilton, 4:00
Game 3 – Tue., May 3 – Hamilton at Manitoba, 8:30
Game 4 – Wed., May 4 – Hamilton at Manitoba, 8:30
*Game 5 – Fri., May 6 – Hamilton at Manitoba, 8:30
*Game 6 – Sun., May 8 – Manitoba at Hamilton, 7:30
*Game 7 – Mon., May 9 – Manitoba at Hamilton, 7:30

West Division Final – Series “L” (best-of-7)
W1-Milwaukee Admirals vs. W2-Houston Aeros
|| Series Preview
Game 1 – Fri., Apr. 29 – Houston at Milwaukee, 8:00
Game 2 – Sun., May 1 – Houston at Milwaukee, 6:00
Game 3 – Tue., May 3 – Milwaukee at Houston, 8:05
Game 4 – Thu., May 5 – Milwaukee at Houston, 8:05
*Game 5 – Fri., May 6 – Milwaukee at Houston, 8:35
*Game 6 – Sun., May 8 – Houston at Milwaukee, 6:00
*Game 7 – Tue., May 10 – Houston at Milwaukee, 8:00

*if necessary… All times Eastern