Weekend notebook: Lots still to play for with 10 days left

📝 by Patrick Williams

The Grand Rapids Griffins remain alive, and they have plenty of company.

A 5-2 victory at Manitoba last night kept the Griffins’ Calder Cup Playoff ambitions alive, as four games into his pro career, forward Carter Mazur played the hero’s role with his first three AHL points, two of them goals.

With 10 days remaining in the regular season, 29 of 32 clubs have either clinched a playoff berth or remain in contention to join the 23-team field that will compete for the Calder Cup this spring. National Hockey League teams wanted their prospects to play meaningful late-season games and experience Calder Cup Playoff competition, so the AHL implemented a revamped and expanded postseason format last season; more than 500 players competed in AHL postseason play in 2022.

Ten teams have already punched their postseason tickets, and six more — Charlotte, Ontario, Rochester, Springfield, Syracuse and Tucson — all are in position to clinch playoff berths tonight.

The Calder Cup Playoff Primer has a full breakdown of the race to the postseason. Here is a division-by-division look at what to watch for down the stretch:

Hershey and Providence, the division’s only two teams to have an invitation to the postseason so far, continued their ongoing dance for first place — and the Eastern Conference lead — on Wednesday night when the Bruins took a 3-1 home win. Shane Bowers scored twice, his first two goals since coming to the Boston organization in a trade with Colorado on Feb. 25, as Providence defeated the Bears for the fifth time in six meetings this season.

Providence has a one-point lead on Hershey going into the weekend, with home games against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Hartford on the schedule. The Bears are in Springfield tonight before hosting Charlotte on Saturday.

After sweeping a three-game visit to Charlotte last week, the Thunderbirds are even with the Checkers at 80 points with five games each remaining. fifth-place Lehigh Valley (76) hosts Charlotte tonight and Springfield on Saturday as the Phantoms look to gain ground, while also fighting off oncoming pressure from sixth-place Hartford (75) and seventh-place Bridgeport (72). The Wolf Pack host the Islanders tonight in a critical finale to their 12-game season series, with Hartford riding a five-game winning streak overall.

The division champion Toronto Marlies still have a shot at the Eastern Conference regular-season title, trailing Providence by four points. The Marlies are the lone North Division team to have a playoff berth clinched, but are 1-5-2-1 in their last nine outings as they prepare to visit Utica tonight.

The Comets are fourth in the division, but are only three points behind second-place Syracuse and one back of third-place Rochester. The Amerks head east on the New York State Thruway to face the Crunch tonight and Utica on Saturday.

And then there is a three-team battle between Laval (68 points), Cleveland (67) and Belleville (66) for what could amount to the final playoff spot in the North, where five teams will qualify for the postseason. The Monsters visit the Rocket tonight before a rematch with the Senators on Saturday; Mark Sinclair, the 10th goaltender to play this season for Belleville, made 41 saves in his AHL debut on Wednesday, a 1-0 shootout loss to Cleveland.

All seven Central Division teams remain mathematically alive for the Central Division’s five playoff spots heading into the next-to-last weekend of the season.

Starting at the top, Texas and Milwaukee are tied with 84 points each, with the Stars holding a game in hand as they open a two-game set in Tucson tonight. The Admirals have a home-and-home with Rockford this weekend, beginning tonight in Milwaukee.

Next come Manitoba (77 points) and Iowa (74), both still trying to nail down playoff berths. And fifth-place Rockford (71) is now just two points ahead of the defending Calder Cup champion Chicago Wolves (69), who are 5-0-1-0 in their last six games; the Wolves take on Iowa in a home-and-home starting tonight in Des Moines.

The Pacific Division playoff field is much clearer at this point — Calgary, Coachella Valley, Colorado, Abbotsford and Bakersfield have all secured playoff berths, and Ontario and Tucson can round out the seven-team Pacific field as soon as tonight — but there is still plenty of jockeying for position to be done.

The division title is at stake between the Wranglers and Firebirds, and with it avoiding having to play a best-of-three first-round series. Calgary pulled two points ahead of Coachella Valley with a 3-1 road win over the Firebirds on Wednesday. The Wranglers stop in San Diego tonight and Saturday, while the Firebirds are at home to face the Condors on Saturday and Henderson in an Easter Sunday matinee.

Colorado (82) and Abbotsford (81) are battling for third place, while Bakersfield (72) and Ontario (71) have put some distance between themselves and the fight for seventh place between Tucson (68) and San Jose (64). The Roadrunners and Barracuda both have four games remaining, including a potentially massive, season-ending two-game showdown between them next weekend in Tucson.

Henderson, San Diego, and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton are the lone clubs to have been eliminated from playoff contention so far.

The AHLTV Free Game of the Week tonight (10 p.m. ET) features two clubs that have gotten quite familiar with each other in recent weeks.

Ontario visits Abbotsford in the teams’ sixth meeting since the beginning of March. The Canucks swept a two-game visit from the Reign on Mar. 17-18, and Ontario returned the favor when Abbotsford came to Toyota Arena the following weekend. While the Canucks already are playoff-bound, Ontario is still trying to secure a playoff berth.

The Canucks are 19-8-1-3 on home ice as they kick off a season-ending five-game homestand. The Reign will be playing four of their final five games on the road, where they have gone 16-13-2-1 this season.


🏒 Five more AHL players made their NHL debuts this past week, bringing the season total to 71.

Cleveland goaltender Jet Greaves stopped 46 of 49 shots for the Columbus Blue Jackets in his NHL debut on Tuesday, a 4-2 loss at Toronto. The Cambridge, Ont., native then headed up the 401 to Belleville and rejoined the Monsters the following night, when he made 26 saves in a 1-0 shootout victory in a crucial match-up with the Senators.

Also on Tuesday, Leevi Merilainen made 34 saves in Ottawa’s 3-2 overtime loss at Carolina. The 20-year-old goaltender, a third-round pick by the Senators in 2020, had made his AHL debut just three nights earlier, posting a 41-save shutout for Belleville against Toronto.

Springfield defenseman Matt Kessel’s NHL debut came on Sunday as he skated for the St. Louis Blues in their game against Boston. Kessel, 22, has 31 points in 66 games as a rookie for the Thunderbirds. He went to St. Louis in the fifth round of the 2020 NHL Draft.

Forward Danil Gushchin scored a goal in his NHL debut for the San Jose Sharks, a 7-2 win last Saturday at Arizona. He followed that up with an assist in his second game, Tuesday vs. Colorado. Taken as a third-round pick by the Sharks in the 2020 NHL Draft, the 21-year-old Gushchin has had a strong first season with the San Jose Barracuda with 19 goals and 39 points while playing 63 games.

Rounding out the group is Milwaukee forward Spencer Stastney, who debuted with the Nashville Predators last Saturday against St. Louis. Statsney gone on to play a total of four games for the Preds in the last week, and collected a pair of assists on Thursday in a 3-0 win over Carolina to help Nashville keep pace in a bid for a Stanley Cup Playoff spot. The first-year pro has five goals and 13 points through 56 games with the Admirals.

🏒 Andy Andreoff has helped keep Bridgeport in contention for an Atlantic Division playoff berth, scoring 10 goals in his last 12 games.

The veteran forward’s overtime goal on Tuesday gave the Islanders a crucial 4-3 overtime win against Springfield. His career-high 33 goals are just one off the AHL lead held by Calgary’s Matthew Phillips, and are the most by a Bridgeport skater since Jeff Tambellini scored 38 goals in 2007-08.

🏒 If Hartford can reach the postseason for the first time since 2015, the Wolf Pack can give plenty of thanks to forward Jake Leschyshyn, the overtime hero with the game-winner Wednesday night in a 2-1 decision against Toronto.

Assigned to Hartford by the New York Rangers on Feb. 26, the 24-year-old Leschyshyn has churned out 14 points (five goals, nine assists) in 16 games for the Wolf Pack. Getting Hartford back in the Calder Cup Playoffs is a major organizational goal for the Rangers, who overhauled the Hartford roster at the NHL deadline by also bringing defensemen Adam Clendening and Wyatt Kalynuk along with forwards Anton Blidh and Will Lockwood.

Memories of past AHL glory, including members from the 2000 Wolf Pack’s Calder Cup championship team, will be back in Hartford tonight as the team celebrates Alumni Night. AHL Hall of Fame members Ken Gernander, Jean-Francois Labbe and Brad Smyth will join Derek Armstrong, Stefan Cherneski, Todd Hall, Mike Harder, Mike Mottau, John Tripp and Terry Virtue for the pre-game puck drop as well as an autograph session.

🏒 Life is good in Rochester right now, as the Amerks take an eight-game point streak (5-0-2-1) into tonight’s visit to Syracuse. Rochester secured a point against the Crunch on Wednesday, coming back from an early two-goal hole before falling in overtime, 3-2.

The Amerks had standout two-way forward Brandon Biro back to health and in their lineup for the first time since March 17, and he immediately supplied a first-period goal. Linus Weissbach, another forward back after missing eight games with an injury, followed up with a second-period tally. Biro has 22 points (seven goals, 15 assists) in his past 17 games while Weissbach has compiled 13 points (six goals, seven assists) across his past 21 outings.

🏒 Manitoba will look to end a five-game losing streak when they host Grand Rapids in their regular-season home finale tonight. All five losses have come at Canada Life Centre, where the Moose had been 18-8-1-3 before this slide.

Once neck-and-neck with Texas and Milwaukee for first place in the Central Division, the Moose have fallen seven points off the division lead and have seen Iowa edge to within three points of third place. Manitoba closes its schedule with a two-game visit to Texas followed by road dates in Rockford and Chicago next weekend.

🏒 With several top players still in Nashville, new faces continue to keep Milwaukee alive for a Central Division title.

In a wild 6-5 loss to Chicago on Wednesday, the Admirals were down 5-2 before they rattled off three goals in the final seven minutes of the third period to send the game to overtime. Newcomers Austin Rueschhoff, Anthony Angello, Joakim Kemell, Isaac Ratcliffe, Tye Felhaber and Mathew Santos all recorded points in the game for Milwaukee.

The Admirals remain without Luke Evangelista, Kiefer Sherwood, Phil Tomasino, Zach Sanford, Egor Afanasyev, Tommy Novak and Spencer Stastney, all up with the Predators.

🏒 Think Coachella Valley rookie forward Tye Kartye has started to figure out the AHL? The undrafted forward from the Ontario Hockey League’s Soo Greyhounds signed an entry-level deal with the parent Seattle Kraken and began his pro career with the Firebirds, where his rookie season began with just one goal through his opening 18 games.

Possessing an excellent shot, Kartye caught fire and has piled up 48 points (25 goals, 23 assists) in his last 49 games to take over the AHL rookie scoring lead, one point ahead of Providence’s Georgii Merkulov. After notching 11 goals and 17 points in 15 games in March, Kartye was named the AHL Rookie of the Month.

Kartye is third in scoring on a Coachella Valley team that owns the AHL’s top-ranked offense at 3.70 goals per game, despite back-to-back AHL scoring champion Andrew Poturalski being out of the lineup since Jan. 26 with an injury.

🏒 San Jose continues to survive despite the recent loss of two top rookie prospects.

AHL All-Star forward Thomas Bordeleau remains on recall, having recorded one assist in four games since joining the Sharks on March 26. Bordeleau, 21, has 22 goals and 19 assists for 41 points through 64 games for the Barracuda.

San Jose also lost forward William Eklund for the season after he underwent successful shoulder surgery last week. The 20-year-old Eklund, who went seventh overall to the Sharks in the 2021 NHL Draft, had been tied with Bordeleau for second in team scoring with his 41 points (17 goals, 24 assists) in 54 games.


🗣️ “Be ready to go your next shift. It’s definitely a lot of work, but it’s all worth it.”

— Texas Stars captain Curtis McKenzie on his message to young teammates leading into the Calder Cup Playoffs. McKenzie won the Calder Cup as a rookie with the Stars in 2014, and was a finalist with Texas in 2018 and with Chicago in 2019.