Hartford captures Atlantic title

The Hartford Wolf Pack captured the Emile Francis Trophy as the champions of the Atlantic Division with a 5-2 win over Lowell on Thursday night.

It is the Wolf Pack’s second division title in their seven-year history. They won the New England Division in 2000 en route to a Calder Cup championship.

Ken Gernander and Cory Larose had a goal and an assist for Hartford, which scored a pair of shorthanded markers on the night. Jason LaBarbera made 29 saves for his 32nd win of the season.

The loss keeps the Lock Monsters three points out of a playoff spot with just two games left on their schedule – a home-and-home with fifth-place Portland beginning tonight at the Cumberland County Civic Center.

The Emile Francis Trophy was created by the AHL in 2001 and recognizes a Hockey Hall of Fame goaltender who played more than 300 games in the AHL, including a Calder Cup championship run in 1954. Francis served as both head coach and general manager of the Wolf Pack’s parent club, the New York Rangers.

Hartford will be the top seed in the Atlantic Division entering the Calder Cup 2004 Playoffs, and will open the division semifinals against the winner of the Atlantic’s qualifying series.

Former Admiral Mike Souza broke a scoreless tie with 2:39 left in regulation and Martin Kariya added an insurance goal 36 seconds later as Bridgeport posted a 2-0 win over Norfolk. Dieter Kochan made 37 saves for the Sound Tigers, recording his sixth shutout of the season and the team’s 15th. Bridgeport has all but locked up the Harry “Hap” Holmes Award for fewest goals against in the AHL this season.

Norfolk’s lead over sixth-place Hershey in the East Division is still just one point with two games to play, including a visit to the Bears on Saturday.

Alexander Perezhogin scored twice during a four-goal first period and capped his hat trick with a power play goal in the third as Hamilton rolled past Manitoba, 6-1. Perezhogin finished with four points on the night, Tomas Plekanec recorded four assists and Marcel Hossa added a goal and two assists for the Bulldogs, who now lead Syracuse by three points in the race for the North Division title.