Falcons clinch first division title since ’98

(falconsahl.com) — The Springfield Falcons became the first AHL team in the 2012-13 season to win a division title on Sunday afternoon, garnering the F.G. (Teddy) Oke Trophy as the Northeast Division champion during their game against the Portland Pirates at the Cumberland County Civic Center.

Following a 1-0 loss by the Connecticut Whale to the Providence Bruins, the Falcons won the third division championship in franchise history, and first since 1997-98. Springfield, which clinched a spot in the 2013 Calder Cup Playoffs on Friday, is now guaranteed one of the Eastern Conference’s top three seeds in the upcoming postseason. The Falcons led their division nearly wire-to-wire this year, putting a stranglehold on the top spot after obtaining it when play ended on Oct. 26.

Having already secured the division, Springfield (41-20-5-4) defeated Portland (38-26-3-2), 4-2, behind a goal and an assist each from Jonathan Audy-Marchessault and Sean Collins. The Falcons’ regulation win earned the club a victory in the season series with the Pirates.

Springfield jumped out to a 1-0 lead on Jake Hansen‘s second professional goal, and first since Nov. 24. David Savard took possession of the puck on the right-wing boards and fed Alex Aleardi behind the net. Aleardi moved the puck to the slot for Hansen, who cranked a slap shot by Portland goaltender Mike Lee at 18:05.

Moments after Connecticut lost and with the division zipped up, Audy-Marchessault took advantage of a Portland turnover and struck on the power play. Audy-Marchessault knocked down a clearing attempt in the right circle and wristed a puck by Lee’s blocker at 12:09, extending Springfield’s advantage to 2-0. His goal was his 20th of the season, tying Ryan Craig for the team lead.

The Pirates broke through to make it a 2-1 game late in the second. After Falcons netminder Curtis McElhinney slowed down a Maxim Goncharov shot with the Pirates on a power play, Andy Miele pushed in the rebound at 19:46. Springfield took a one-goal edge into the second intermission.

The Falcons went back ahead by two with another man-advantage conversion in the third on a play that started when Nick Holden set up Collins in the right circle. Collins’ shot went wide, deflected off the glass and came to the left goal line. Blake Parlett fired in the carom at 9:55, upping Springfield’s pad to 3-1. The goal was Parlett’s first as a Falcon.

Springfield delivered a final blow when Collins blasted home a Matthew Ford feed in the right circle at 14:04. Collins’ tally put the Pirates out of reach, 4-1.

Miele guided a puck in from the right goal line with just two seconds to go in the game and the Pirates working on a power play, but it was too little, too late for Portland, as Springfield put an exclamation point on its division-clinching day with a 4-2 win.

McElhinney (28-14-3) made 19 saves to pull to within two victories of equaling Scott Langkow for the most wins by a Falcons goaltender in one season. Langkow collected 30 wins in 1997-98.

Lee (8-5-0) permitted four goals on 33 shots.