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Races heat up as season winds down

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … Just two Calder Cup Playoff berths remain up for grabs as the American Hockey League enters the final week of its 70th regular season.

In the closest race, three teams are fighting for fourth place in the West division heading into the home stretch, with the Iowa holding a tenuous three-point lead over both Omaha and Chicago. The Stars can help their own cause and eliminate the Wolves from contention with a victory over Chicago on Tuesday.

In its pursuit of the West Division championship, Houston will also play a direct role in the race for fourth. The Aeros, who enter the week four points back of first-place Milwaukee, host Omaha on Tuesday and Friday before visiting Chicago and Iowa over the weekend to close out the regular season.

In the East Division, Bridgeport remains one win away from securing fourth place, but Binghamton has not gone quietly, with a 9-2-0-1 record in its last dozen games. The Sound Tigers can clinch without even hitting the ice if the Senators lose to Norfolk on Wednesday.

Portland and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton are tied at 108 points each in the race for the Eastern Conference’s regular-season title, although the Pirates own the tiebreaker with 50 wins to the Penguins’ 49. And both can still catch Grand Rapids for the Macgregor Kilpatrick Trophy, given to the overall regular-season points champion.

Also still up for grabs is third place in the Atlantic Division, with Providence trailing Manchester by one point heading into the teams’ meeting Wednesday night at the Verizon Wireless Arena. In the North, Manitoba and Syracuse will square off in the division semifinals, but home-ice advantage hinges on the results of this week’s games, as the Moose and Crunch are currently tied at 98 points each.

The 2006 Calder Cup Playoffs will begin next week with 16 teams looking to capture the American Hockey League championship.


TIEBREAKERS … Following are the tiebreaking procedures used in the event of a tie in the standings following the completion of the regular season on Sunday. When a tie among three or more teams is broken resulting in a two-team tie, the original tiebreaking method is used.

Between two teams:
a) wins
b) points in season series between teams
c) goal differential
d) goals scored in season series between teams
e) intra-conference points percentage

Among three or more teams:
a) wins
b) points percentage in combined season series
c) goal differential
d) goal differential in combined season series
e) intra-conference points percentage


PLAYOFF SCHEDULES … Match-ups are set and schedules determined for three of the eight division semifinal playoff series.

In the North Division, Grand Rapids will take on Toronto in the first round, beginning next Friday, Apr. 21, at Van Andel Arena. Syracuse and Manitoba will face off in the other North Division semifinal, also beginning Apr. 21 at the home of the second-place finisher. In the East, Hershey and Norfolk will meet in the postseason for the third time in six years. Game 1 is set for Wed., Apr. 19, at the Giant Center.

In other series, Hartford will open the first round on either Apr. 18 or Apr. 19, while Portland and Wilkes-Barre host Game 1 of their respective series on Thurs., Apr. 20. In the West Division, Milwaukee has clinched home-ice advantage in the division semifinal round and will open at the Bradley Center on Fri., Apr. 21. The other West series is scheduled to open either Apr. 18 in Peoria or Apr. 21 in Houston.


ETC.

  • Chicago’s nine-game winning streak ended in a 4-1 loss to Iowa on Saturday; the Wolves returned the favor on Sunday, ending the Stars’ own eight-game winning streak with a 2-1 victory
  • Saturday’s 6-0 win in Syracuse was a happy homecoming for two Grand Rapids players: former Crunch forward Donald MacLean recorded his fifth hat trick of the season, upping his season total to 56 goals, and Syracuse native Jimmy Howard made 31 saves for his second shutout of the year
  • Jakub Kindl, the 19th overall pick in the 2005 NHL draft, recorded an assist in his pro debut for the Griffins on Saturday
  • 2004 New York Rangers draft picks Lauri Korpikoski (19th overall) and Dane Byers (48th overall) picked up a goal and an assist, respectively, as both made their pro debuts on Friday vs. Portland
  • Rochester rookie Mark Mancari recorded a natural hat trick, scoring three of the combined 10 power-play goals netted in the Amerks’ 6-5 loss to Binghamton on Saturday night
  • Providence owned a 50-17 edge in shots on goal, but Jonathan Boutin made 49 saves in Springfield’s 3-1 win on Saturday
  • In Sunday’s back end of the home-and-home, the Bruins’ Tyler Redenbach needed just 4:05 to score three times in a 6-1 win over the Falcons
  • Mike Zigomanis registered three goals and two assists and tied an AHL season high by firing 12 shots on goal in Peoria’s 5-1 win in Omaha on Saturday
  • After potting his second hat trick of the season on Sunday, Philadelphia’s Tony Voce has 37 points in his last 29 games (19g, 18a)
  • A crowd of 7,961 fans took in the Cleveland Barons’ home finale at the Quicken Loans Arena on Saturday
  • Chicago will be retiring the number 11 of long-time captain Steve Maltais prior to this Saturday’s season finale vs. Houston.
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