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AHL playoff race heads into final week

March 6, 2015: Goaltender Jeremy Smith (30) allows the puck to sneak past him during an American Hockey League game between the Hershey Bears and the Providence Bruins at Dunkin Donuts Center in Providence, RI.
Corey Silvia/Icon Sportswire

With a week remaining in the AHL season, 14 of the 16 Calder Cup Playoff spots have been claimed, while only a couple first-round matchups have been solidified.

That’s left room for added intrigue in the final week of the regular season, as teams jockey for position heading into the postseason.

In the AHL, the playoff format is divisional like the NHL, with a slight modification. In each Division the top-four teams make the playoffs, while there is potential for a crossover in two divisions.

If the fifth-place team in the eight-team Atlantic Division or eight-team Central Division has a better points percentage than the fourth-place team in the seven-team North Division or Pacific Division, they can cross over and steal a playoff spot.

Here is a division-by-by-division breakdown of the final week of the regular season.

Atlantic Division

The four playoff teams are set, but the matchups are still to be determined in the Atlantic.

The Hershey Bears, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, Providence Bruins, and Portland Pirates have all clinched playoff spots. Right now, Hershey has the inside track at the Division title, and can clinch the top spot with one win in the final three games.

The Penguins and Bruins are currently tied for second in the division and seem on a collision course for the first-round, but could see the Pirates jump into that matchup with a strong showing in their final three games.

The Penguins, Bruins, and Pirates, all have three games remaining and the team with the best showing will claim second in the division. The team with the worst will likely meet Hershey in the first round.

North Division

Three playoff spots are spoken for in the North Division, and one first-round series is already locked in. The Toronto Marlies have already clinched the best record in the AHL and await their first round opponent, while the Albany Devils and Utica Comets are locked in as the second and third seed and will meet in the first round.

That leaves an opening for either an Atlantic Division team, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers or Hartford Wolfpack, to claim the final spot via the crossover (all of the other North Division teams have been officially eliminated from the playoffs).

Bridgeport has the easiest path and just needs two points in its final three games, or need Hartford to lose in regulation once in it’s final three games.

For Hartford to make the playoffs, the Wolfpack need to make up an 11-point differential in three games. In simplest terms, that translates to a three wins for Hartford and three losses for Bridgeport, with one overtime decision allowed for flexibility.

It’s possible, but highly unlikely, that Hartford catches Bridgeport and the Marlies are probably already planning on playing the Tigers.

27 December 2015: Lake Erie Monsters LW Kerby Rychel (16) and Grand Rapids Griffins D Ryan Sproul (7) battle for the puck during the second period of the AHL hockey game between the Grand Rapids Griffins and Lake Erie Monsters at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, OH. Lake Erie defeated Grand Rapids 3-2. (Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire)

(Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire)

Central Division

The Central Division playoff matchups are nearly locked up heading into the final week of the season, and all four playoff spots have been clinched.

The Milwaukee Admirals have clinched the Central Division title and are all but assured of playing the Rockford IceHogs, while the Grand Rapids Griffins and Lake Erie Monsters will likely meet in the first round, with home-ice advantage still to be determined.

Grand Rapids has the slight edge heading into this week and has four games remaining, including one against Lake Erie. The Monsters have three games remaining, including a back-to-back this weekend against the Charlotte Checkers.

It could come down to Wednesday’s game in Grand Rapids to determine home ice advantage.

Charlotte is locked into fifth place in the Central, but could still reach the playoffs in the Pacific Division thanks to the crossover.

Pacific Division

There are only two certainties in the Pacific Division heading into the final week of the regular season:

1. The Ontario Reign have clinched the Division title.
2. The San Diego Gulls and Texas Stars will meet in the first round.

If the playoffs started today, San Diego would be the second seed and have home-ice advantage in the best-of-five first round playoff series. However, Texas could make the jump and steal home-ice in the final two games.

San Diego has two games remaining at Ontario this weekend, and with one point they’d clinch the second seed. On paper, that could be a tough stretch against the Pacific Division champions, but the Reign could also rest several key players with a back-to-back before the playoffs.

Texas, once again on paper, is in a favorable position to win both of its final two games and potentially catch San Diego. The Stars have a game with the San Antonio Rampage on Wednesday, the last-place team in the Pacific, and close out the season against the Manitoba Moose on Saturday — the team with the second-worst record in the AHL.

The other key question becomes: which team will meet Ontario in the first round?

After this weekend there are three candidates: the Stockton Heat, San Jose Barracuda, and Charlotte Checkers. Charlotte is the fifth-place team in the Central Division, but again, one of the Central teams could steal the final Pacific Division spot, and Carolina’s AHL-affiliate has the best chance to do so.

Charlotte’s magic number sits at 4 points with two games remaining. They have back-to-back games with the Lake Erie Monsters and can close out the playoff spot with back-to-back wins. Charlotte can also clinch if San Jose falters.

San Jose needs to outperform Charlotte in it’s back-to-back games against Stockton and pick up more points than Charlotte does against Lake Erie. Stockton needs the most help to clinch a playoff spot, the Heat would have to sweep the Barracuda this weekend and hope the Checkers drop both games to the Monsters.

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