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Knights making playoff push in West

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … In a competitive West Division that has produced the last four Western Conference champions, the Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights are lining up for a push to the finish line and a berth in the Calder Cup Playoffs.

Led by Ryan McGill, who won 127 games in three seasons behind the bench in Hartford from 2002-05, the Knights have won eight of their last nine games overall to open up a five-point lead over Iowa in the race for fourth place in the West. Omaha, one of two AHL teams currently over .500 on the road but below .500 at home (Rochester is the other), is on an 8-1-0-0 run away from home after going 1-7-1-1 in its previous 10 road matches.

The Knights’ leading scorer is defenseman Mark Giordano with 46 points in 59 games. Giordano, a second-year pro, was selected to play in the 2006 Rbk Hockey AHL All-Star Classic but missed the event while making his NHL debut with the parent Calgary Flames. He was recalled again by the Flames this past weekend. Richie Regehr, who replaced Giordano at the All-Star event in Winnipeg, has 26 points in just 40 games for Omaha.

David Moss, in his first year out of the University of Michigan, has been one of the hottest Knights of late, racking up seven goals and six assists for 13 points in 10 games during the month of February. Moss is tied for second among all AHL rookies with 14 power-play goals on the season. Fellow rookie and ex-Wolverine Eric Nystrom was Calgary’s first-round pick in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, and is one of seven Knights to hit double-digits in goals. Carsen Germyn has a team-leading 20 goals for Omaha, matching his total from the last two seasons combined, while Justin Taylor’s 29 points are nearly triple his output as a rookie in 2004-05.

In third-year pro Brent Krahn (18-15-6, 2.52, .912) and rookie Curtis McElhinney (8-11-1, 2.57, .910), the Knights have one of the AHL’s top goaltending tandems. Both rank among the top 10 in the league in goals-against average, while Krahn is also eighth in save percentage, tied for sixth in wins and tied for second in shutouts (three).

With veterans like Steve Bancroft and Zenith Komarniski on the blue line, Omaha ranks third in the AHL in defense allowing 2.76 goals per game, including two goals or fewer in eight of their last nine games (all wins). The Knights return to action on Friday night when they kick off a five-game homestand as Manitoba visits the Civic Auditorium.

HART-AGAIN … Syracuse forward Mark Hartigan continued his methodical march towards AHL history with four more goals last week, extending his streak of consecutive games with a goal to 11.

It’s the longest such streak in the AHL since Brad Smyth’s 12-game run in 1995-96, and is just three shy of the all-time league record of 14 set by a 22-year-old rookie named Brett Hull in 1986-87.

Hartigan has scored exactly one goal in each of the 11 games, during which time the Crunch have not lost in regulation (8-0-2-1). The streak began one day after a 1-0 loss in Peoria ended Hartigan’s 18-game point-scoring streak, meaning the 2006 AHL All-Star has found the scoresheet in 29 of his last 30 AHL contests (28g, 27a).

CROWD FAVORITES … It was a big night to watch some AHL action along the shores of Lake Michigan on Saturday, as the Chicago Wolves and Milwaukee Admirals rewrote their record books.

At the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Ill., 16,607 fans – the largest crowd in the AHL this season – were on hand to watch the Wolves shoot down the Cleveland Barons.

Some 80 miles to the north, 15,758 fans packed the Bradley Center to see the Admirals take on the first-place Houston Aeros.

Both crowds represented franchise bests since both teams entered the AHL in 2001.

ETC.

  • Eight months after earning Calder Cup Playoff MVP honors with the Philadelphia Phantoms, Antero Niittymaki was named tournament MVP at the 2006 Winter Olympic Games, and was one of 38 AHL graduates to take home a medal from Turin
  • Rochester captain Chris Taylor returned to the lineup after missing 47 games with a serious thigh injury and recorded a goal and an assist in the Amerks’ 6-4 loss to Hamilton on Sunday
  • Peoria scored three shorthanded goals, including Mike Zigomanis’s game-winner in overtime, in a 4-3 win over Chicago on Sunday
  • Hershey’s Frederic Cassivi appeared in his 400th career AHL game on Friday night in Albany, the 13th goaltender in history to reach that mark
  • Sean Bergenheim scored four goals in Bridgeport’s 5-1 win over Hartford on Wednesday, becoming the ninth player to score at least four goals in an AHL game this season
  • The Sound Tigers defeated Lowell on Friday, 3-1, to complete an eight-game sweep of the season series
  • Hartford rallied from 4-1 down to defeat Albany, 5-4, on Saturday night, then erased four separate deficits in a 6-5 overtime win in Lowell on Sunday
  • Paul Healey scored his 200th career AHL goal for the Lock Monsters on Sunday
  • Norfolk’s Nathan Barrett has potted 18 of his 23 goals this season on the power play… Omaha rookie Brett Palin, scoreless in 43 games this season, played the unlikely hero in Saturday’s 3-2 win at Toronto, where he was the only shooter to convert his attempt in the shootout
  • Saturday in Syracuse, Grand Rapids reached the 40-win mark for the seventh straight year and fifth since joining the AHL in 2001; the original Cleveland Barons hold the AHL record for consecutive 40-win seasons with six (1947-53)
  • The Griffins’ Donald MacLean leads the league with 44 goals this year, but he is 0-for-7 in shootout attempts
  • The Springfield-Philadelphia game postponed by snow on Feb. 12 will be made up this Wednesday at the Wachovia Center (7:00 ET).