Weekend notebook: Playoff push hits final 72 hours

Photo: Arianne Bergeron / Arena du Rocket Inc.

📝 by Patrick Williams

Nineteen teams are through to the Calder Cup Playoffs. Six teams still have a chance. Four playoff berths remain.

The AHL’s final regular-season weekend has arrived.

The Calgary Wranglers are positioned to clinch first place in both the Pacific Division and the AHL overall standings tonight, thereby avoiding a best-of-three first-round playoff series in the process. Texas has a shot to secure the Central Division title tonight, while Laval, Rockford and Utica could join the 23-team playoff field via a variety of pathways as well.

The Calder Cup Playoff Primer has a full breakdown of the race to the postseason. Here is a division-by-division breakdown going into this final weekend:

The divisional playoff field is set, but the seeding remains very undetermined.

Hershey and Providence have earned byes into the division semifinals, and will jockey for the Atlantic Division title this weekend. The Bears have a one-point lead, but the Bruins have a game in hand.

Charlotte, Lehigh Valley, Springfield and Hartford sit in the third through sixth spots, respectively. By Sunday evening, they will have paired off into first-round matchups for best-of-three series that will begin next week. The Checkers enter the weekend with 82 points, followed by the Phantoms and Thunderbirds with 80 each and the Wolf Pack with 79.

While the Toronto Marlies have locked up the North Division title, they have just one win in their past 11 outings (1-7-2-1) and have scored only 15 goals over that stretch. Toronto finishes the regular season with a pair of games against Belleville.

Second-place Syracuse and third-place Rochester have playoff berths clinched, and appear on a collision course for a division semifinal meeting. The Amerks are 7-0-2-1 over the last three weeks, and are one point behind the Crunch with a game in hand.

A playoff berth continues to elude Utica, which remains one point away from sewing up a spot. The Comets are home tonight against Cleveland, which is three points behind Laval for fifth place. But the Monsters control their fate: win all three games this weekend and they will get in the postseason. The Rocket’s schedule ends tonight with their finale against Syracuse.

Texas continues to battle Milwaukee for the Central Division title, bringing a two-point lead into the weekend with two games remaining. The Stars host Iowa on Saturday and Sunday; the Admirals are home for Chicago tonight and Rockford on Sunday.

Manitoba has clinched third place, and will take on either Texas or Milwaukee in the division semifinals. But the fourth and fifth spots are still wide open: Iowa (76 points) holds a one-point lead over Rockford (75), which got some breathing room with a 6-3 win over Chicago on Tuesday. The defending Calder Cup champions are three points behind the IceHogs with three games left to play.

The Pacific Division is nearly set. While Calgary is trying to fend off a last-ditch charge from Coachella Valley, Colorado and Abbotsford are separated by just one point in the battle for third place. Both the Eagles and Canucks have secured home-ice advantage in the first round.

Ontario and Bakersfield are tied for fifth place. The Condors would own the tiebreaker if they finish even. And Tucson is set in seventh place, and will face the second-place finisher in the first round.

Each team in the division has two games remaining.

Hershey can close in on the Atlantic Division title with a win over Bridgeport in the AHLTV Free Game of the Week tonight (7 p.m. ET).

The Bears have gone 4-1-0-0 against Bridgeport this season, and have won seven straight visits to Total Mortgage Arena going back to 2020.

The Islanders were eliminated from playoff contention last weekend, but will be a factor in the division race as they visit Providence on Saturday after hosting the Bears tonight. Andy Andreoff enters the weekend with 36 goals for Bridgeport, tied for the AHL lead, after scoring twice in Wednesday’s 6-4 win over Lehigh Valley.


🏒 As the NHL regular season wound down, 13 more AHL players made their NHL debuts this past week, bringing the season total to 84.

The group was headlined by Dustin Wolf, who debuted with the Calgary Flames on Wednesday after two dominant AHL seasons. Wolf, who made 23 saves in the Flames’ 3-1 win over San Jose, was named a First Team AHL All-Star for the second consecutive season and is considered a favorite to nab his second straight Baz Bastien Award as the league’s top goaltender.

Three Cleveland skaters made their debuts on Thursday, with Tyler Angle, Mikael Pyyhtia and Samuel Knazko playing in Columbus’s 3-2 overtime victory over Pittsburgh. Iowa’s Damien Giroux and Nick Swaney debuted for Minnesota in a 4-3 overtime loss at Nashville on Thursday, and Belleville’s Max Guenette was in Ottawa’s lineup for their finale against Buffalo.

Laval forward Lucas Condotta made his NHL debut for Montreal on Thursday and scored a goal on an assist from Joël Teasdale, who made his own NHL debut a night earlier.

San Jose Barracuda forward Tristen Robins had his NHL debut come in his home province when the San Jose Sharks visited the Winnipeg Jets on Monday. Lehigh Valley defenseman Adam Ginning made his debut with the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday evening against Columbus. Springfield’s Hugh McGing debuted with the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday against Dallas. And Olle Eriksson Ek made 34 saves for the Anaheim Ducks in his first NHL game last Saturday night.

🏒 Hartford ended an eight-year playoff drought by securing a berth in the 2023 Calder Cup Playoffs. It will be their first postseason appearance since making a trip to the conference finals in 2015.

The Wolf Pack are among the AHL’s hottest teams going into the final weekend of play, carrying a seven-game winning streak into tonight’s meeting with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

🏒 Lehigh Valley forward Elliot Desnoyers set a new team rookie record with his 23rd goal of the season Wednesday at Bridgeport. That tally broke the mark set by Danick Martel in 2014-15.

🏒 With the Montreal Canadiens’ season finished, management is restocking Laval’s lineup for the Rocket’s finale against Syracuse tonight.

The team has sent forwards Lucas Condotta and Joël Teasdale back to the Rocket, along with defenseman Frederic Allard. They join Rafaël Harvey-Pinard and Jesse Ylönen, whose recent returns have already boosted the Rocket. Harvey-Pinard set a career best with five assists in Wednesday’s 6-3 win over Toronto, while Ylönen has scored in back-to-back games this week.

🏒 The Nashville Predators finish their season tonight, and Milwaukee will be watching closely. Luke Evangelista, Mark Jankowski, Zach Sanford, Kiefer Sherwood, Spencer Stastney and Phil Tomasino all are on recall with Nashville and are eligible to return to the Admirals for the end of the regular season as well as the Calder Cup Playoffs.

🏒 Rockford should get a first look at high-end forward Joey Anderson this weekend. Anderson has joined the IceHogs on loan from the Chicago Blackhawks; he was acquired in a Feb. 23 deal with Toronto and played 24 games with the Blackhawks. Before the trade, Anderson had 14 goals and 27 points in 30 games with the Marlies.

🏒 Bakersfield will add significant NHL experience on the blue line with Ryan Murray joining the Condors on a conditioning assignment from the Edmonton Oilers.

Murray, a veteran of 445 NHL games, has been limited to 13 games with the Oilers this season and has not played since Nov. 21 due to injury.

🏒 Ontario’s T.J. Tynan has crossed the 70-assist threshold for the second year in a row, notching two helpers in Wednesday’s 3-2 loss to Coachella Valley.

Tynan is just the fourth player in league history to record at least 70 assists in back-to-back seasons, and will join Art Stratton (four times) as the only AHL players ever to lead the league in assists three times in a career.


🗣️ “You never know how long your career is going to be. Just enjoy every moment you have and prove your support system right every single day.”

— Grand Rapids captain Brian Lashoff on his advice to young teammates as he wraps up his 14th and final pro season this weekend. Lashoff has spent his entire pro career in the Detroit Red Wings organization and won the Calder Cup with the Griffins in 2013 and 2017.