The AHL’s regular season wraps up this coming weekend and the affiliates of the NHL’s Southeast Division teams should be well-represented when all is said and done.
The Hershey Bears and Charlotte Checkers have already clinched playoff berths and the Norfolk Admirals are on the doorstep, with five games left on the schedule and a magic number of three over Worcester. In the West, the Chicago Wolves are in a battle for a spot in the Calder Cup playoffs by way of the crossover rule, currently four points over the North Division’s Abbotsford Heat but trailing division rival Oklahoma City by a single point. Chicago and Oklahoma City each have three games remaining to Abbotsford’s five.
Only the Rochester Americans are sure to miss the AHL postseason this year, last in the North and well out of playoff contention.
With postseason berths at stake, the upcoming week is full of crucial games and once the playoff seeds are set, the focus of this weekly update will shift that way and include some more detailed recaps. Until then, let’s have a look back at the week gone by:
Click for individual box scores
Tuesday, 3/29/11: Manitoba Moose 3, Rochester Americans 2
Rochester goal-scorers: Eric Selleck (3), Bill Thomas (14)
Rochester goaltenders (saves/shots): Marc Cheverie (43/46)
Three stars of the game: 1 – Bill Sweatt, MTB; 2 – Marc Cheverie, RCH; 3 – Jason Jaffray, MTB
Well, they’re in.
With a hard-fought 2-1 decision over a likely first-round opponent in the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Tampa Bay Lightning will return to the NHL’s post-season for the first time since 2007.
There was satisfaction in the locker room in the minutes after the win was secured – but not celebration. Deep down, players that have been part of the team in recent years of disappointment (and downright sorrow) had to appreciate a sense of revival and a reward for their resiliency. Newcomers had to be pleased to be a part of the team’s turnaround, now with a tangible measure of achievement.
To a man, the satisfaction of checking goal number one for the season off the list has now been realized.
But that was about it – and the sense in the room last night was that this team, despite some recent struggles, does indeed feel like getting into the playoffs was just step one of many.
It’s been a rough go of late.
Despite the mini-revival of a two-game win streak, the month of March has been a tough one for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Before Saturday’s win in Raleigh and Tuesday’s at home over the Hurricanes and Senators, respectively, the Bolts had managed just two wins since February, the offense had dried up and injuries put several key contributors on the shelf. March has seen the Lightning slip from second in the conference and the top spot in the Southeast Division to fifth in the East and a divisional also-ran to the Washington Capitals.
But with two points tonight, Tampa Bay can secure its first playoff berth in four years and, though any lingering effects of that torturous time period have been all but washed away by this season’s overall success and a rejuvenated sense of organizational pride, by comparison, maybe the recent skid hasn’t been all that bad after all.
So much has happened to this franchise and its fan base since its last postseason appearance – a first-round exit at the hands of the New Jersey Devils, four games to two in the 2007 Stanley Cup playoffs.
There’s no sense in rehashing any or all of that here. Block out what you can, Lightning fans, but you remember…
My initial plans for last night/this morning called for a Tampa Bay Lightning playoff-clinching column but, while the Bolts held up their end of the bargain, those pesky Carolina Hurricanes didn’t cooperate, toppling the Washington Capitals in a shootout.
Instead, I’ll toss out some quick food for thought today, stemming from a press box discussion last night as we sifted through every possible combination and computation related to clinching scenarios and tiebreakers and so on and so forth.
I’ve moaned about three-point games already this season but, as we subtracted a point from Tampa Bay’s magic number when Carolina and Washington were knotted after regulation, carried the one when the ‘Canes prevailed in the shootout, multiplied by six when the Lightning one and determined the square root of the product thereof (or, um, something), another angle of the ridiculousness of the loser point struck me.
This is just far too complicated.
Hershey’s clinched in the East Division and both Charlotte and Norfolk are getting awful close. Chicago’s in a dogfight in the West (with an added lift from the crossover rule), while Rochester is left to play for pride. Amid some serious playoff race action, here is your weekly stats pack-style glimpse at the week gone by for the AHL affiliates of the NHL’s Southeast Division clubs:
Click for individual box scores
Tuesday, 3/22/11: Charlotte Checkers 5, Adirondack Phantoms 2
Charlotte goal-scorers: Mike McKenzie (1), Chris Terry (29), Zach Boychuk 2 (19), Jacob Micflikier (24)
Charlotte goaltenders (saves/shots): Justin Pogge (17/19)
Three stars of the game: 1 – Zach Boychuk, CHA; 2 – Michal Jordan, CHA; 3 – Jacob Micflikier, CHA
Tuesday, 3/22/11: Lake Erie Monsters 2, Rochester Americans 1
Rochester goal-scorers: Kenndal McArdle (14)
Rochester goaltenders (saves/shots): Marc Cheverie (31/33)
Three stars of the game: 1 – Travis Gawryletz, LE; 2 – Shawn Belle, LE; 3 – Kenndal McArdle, RCH
Less than two weeks remain on the regular season schedule as of today and, for the teams of the NHL’s Southeast Division, the post-season picture is beginning to clear up.
First thing’s first: The Florida Panthers have missed the playoffs for a tenth consecutive campaign. Nevertheless, the Cats from Sunrise appear to be on track for marked improvement in the coming years with a solid nucleus in place and a wealth of young talent coming up the pike.
At the opposite end of the division standings are the Washington Capitals, seeded second in the conference presently, just two points in back of the Philadelphia Flyers for first overall, with Philly holding a game in hand over Washington. The Caps lead the Tampa Bay Lightning by seven points with six games left to play, with the Bolts possessing a game in hand on Washington as well.
March has been unkind to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
But it’s time for the Tampa Bay Lightning to be unkind right back.
Since finishing February 19 games over “NHL .500” with a five-point lead over second place Washington in the Southeast Division, the Bolts have been overtaken by the Capitals and then some, now seven points behind in the division race and just 2-5-4 this month overall after a 5-2 home loss to the New York Islanders last night, coupled with Washington’s shootout win in Philadelphia.
With nine games remaining on the regular season schedule, the Lightning can pretty much forget any division title hopes – a shame, really, considering how dominant this club was for much of the year while the Caps were busy figuring themselves out – and the turning point in this race, looking back now, is clear.
When Washington took care of the Florida Panthers in overtime on March 6th to take over the lead in the Southeast for the first time since December 29th, it should have irked Tampa Bay, providing some outside motivation for a team that hadn’t had to worry about as much for so long. And maybe it did, albeit for a very short time. A night later, the Caps prevailed in a shootout over the Lightning and haven’t looked back since, 6-1 since that game (their only loss in that span coming at the hands of the Red Wings in Detroit) and on the verge of securing a fourth straight division championship.
Another week, another look at the Southeast Division’s AHL affiliates…
Let’s get right to last week’s results:
Click for individual box scores
Wednesday, 3/16/11: Charlotte Checkers 2, Bridgeport Sound Tigers 1 (SO)
Charlotte goal-scorers: Chris Terry (26)
Charlotte goaltenders (saves/shots): Mike Murphy (30/31)
Three stars of the game: 1 – Chris Terry, CHA; 2 – Joel Martin, BRI; 3 – Mike Murphy, CHA
Wednesday, 3/16/11: Hamilton Bulldogs 2, Rochester Americans 0
Rochester goal-scorers: none
Rochester goaltenders (saves/shots): Tyler Plante (23/24)
Three stars of the game: 1 – Andrew Conboy, HAM; 2 – Tyler Plante, RCH; 3 – Drew MacIntyre, HAM
“Once the playoffs come, those third periods are important. They’re all 2-1, 1-0 games, so we have to get better at them.” - Tampa Bay Lightning captain, Vincent Lecavalier, to the St. Pete Times after Saturday’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Senators in Ottawa.
A telling quote, really, for a team 2-4-4 in their last 10 games, with just one win in their last nine contests that were decided by a single goal.
Lecavalier’s right, the playoffs are coming. The fifth-place Bolts are 13 points up on ninth-place Carolina, meaning it would take a monumental (almost New York Mets-like) collapse for them to miss out on the postseason.
But he’s also right about the team needing to get better in tight games. They simply haven’t been able to close teams out. What’s more concerning, perhaps, is that three of their last four losses have come to teams well out of playoff contention – Ottawa twice and the Florida Panthers. That’s not always a truthful indicator, as these teams often play much looser once they have little left to shoot for, but it isn’t exactly a glowing endorsement of the Lightning as a contender at this late stage of the game either.
A happy St. Patrick’s Day to the readers out there from yours truly! May you all be blessed with a plentiful helping of corned beef and cabbage, a pint or three of Guinness and, hell, a nip of Jameson for those of you feeling a wee bit adventurous! And, for the love of your favorite Irishman (or woman), please do avoid green beer at all costs. Dye the local pond, river or stream, if you must, but beer, my friends, should never be green!
A smorgasbord of news items and thoughts on each, in turn, for this fine Thursday afoot:
Farewell, Young Mr. Fadden
The troubling tenure of forward Mitch Fadden as a Tampa Bay Lightning prospect ends today upon his clearing unconditional release waivers and the termination of his contract. According to a report in the Salmon Arm Observer, Fadden, 22, was arrested in Salmon Arm earlier this month on charges of impaired driving, failing to provide a breath sample, dangerous operation of a motor vehicle and obstructing a peace officer. All of this, according to the report, after police observed Fadden to be “grossly intoxicated” at – wait for it – 12:57 PM and that he became “violent with officers” upon apprehension.
Yikes. Hope it was a good party.
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