By Zach DeVine
The AHL regular season is winding down, and in just five more days, the playoff picture will be complete. In the handful of days between, each division has a battle for the final spot in the end-of-the-year dance.
As a refresher, the AHL playoffs are divisional. In each of the four divisions (Atlantic, Central, North, and Pacific) the first seed will play the four seed and the middle seeds to face each other as well. The AHL has an excellent playoff primer to reference here
Hersey Bears and Bridgeport Sound Tigers
The Bears sit in the final spot but have the fewest games remaining of any AHL team (two), and both those games are against the top teams in the Atlantic: the WBS Penguins and the Providence Bruins. If the Bears can win both of their remaining games, they are in no matter how hot the Tigers gets. But if the Bears lose on of their games in regulation, that opens the door for Bridgeport. If Bridgeport Sound wins Sunday's game against the last-place Hartford Wolfpack, they set-up for an exciting weekend against lowly Springfield Thunderbirds and first place Penguins. It'll take help and a huge road win in the season finale but the Tigers are still in it.
Charlotte Checkers and Cleveland Monsters
The Monsters have one more point than the Checkers, but both teams have an identical .568 winning percentage. The head-to-head records edge for Charlotte is the difference in the fantastic race for the last playoff birth. The Monsters have a softball schedule to close out as all that remains is a weekend series against the Manitoba Moose depleted with NHL call-ups that should be returning, especially Jack Roslovic and Kyle Connor.
The Checkers have a more difficult road to the postseason. All remaining games are against the three playoff teams in the division. This one will come down to the wire and a lot of math. Sharpen your pencils and hold on.
St. John's IceCaps and Utica Comets
On Sunday, the North had the same issue as the Central: St. John's is outside the playoff party despite more points than the Comets. But Charlie Lindgren's shutout of the Utica and Josiah Didier's only goal of the contest for the IceCaps. The clutch win catapulted the IceCaps into the playoff picture and put some breathing room between the two teams.
Now that St. John's jumped out in front, the chase is on. The IceCaps have only two games remaining, and both are against the division's top squad, the Toronto Marlies. Utica plays a pair against the division's second place team, the Syracuse Crunch with reinforcements likely coming from Tampa Bay as the Lightning season came to an end. Hard games and a close race here as well.
Stockton Heat and Bakersfield Condors
The Condors and Heat have the largest winning percentage spread of any two teams vying for a playoff spot, and that is still only .024 of a separation. The Heat are playing the best hockey of the season, and both goalies David Rittich and Jon Gillies have had recent call ups to the Calgary Flames, no doubt adding to their confidence. The Condors have dropped two straight top open the door for the Heat and now have ground to make up but will need a lot of help.
Both teams have three games remaining and play each other on Apr. 14 in Stockton for the final game in the Battle of Highway 99. It might come as a shock, but that game later this week will have huge postseason implications for both squads.
AHL All-Star Teams
The AHL announced both their first and second team All-Stars last week along with the All-Rookie Team. With the Vegas Golden Knights opening up another 23 or so jobs at the NHL level, all of these players need to be on your radar heading into next year. Players with an asterisk next to their names should be closely monitored. They are likely to get extended looks at an NHL job next season.
G – Casey DeSmith
AHL Second All-Star Team
F – Chris Terry
RW – Cory Conacher
AHL First All-Star Team
D – Matt Taormina*
C – Wade Megan