Fresno, Idaho and Stockton all secured their spot in the Kelly Cup Playoffs on Sunday, joining defending champion Alaska, Bakersfield and Las Vegas.
Victoria, Phoenix, Utah and Long Beach are still battling for the final two berths in the National Conference.
It is the first-ever Kelly Cup Playoffs appearance for the Thunder, who are in their second season. The Steelheads have reached the Kelly Cup Playoffs every one of their four seasons and in 2003-04 became only the second expansion team in league history and the first since 1990 to win the ECHL championship. It is the second consecutive appearance in the postseason for the Falcons, who reached the National Conference Finals a year ago before losing in double overtime in Game 7 at Alaska.
In the National Conference, playoff berths will be awarded to the first-place team in each division as well as to the next six-best teams, based on regular-season point totals, and all playoff series will be best-of-seven games. In the Conference Quarterfinals, which will be best-of-seven game series, the division winners will be seeded first and second in order of points and the next six-best teams will be seeded third through eighth in order of points. In the Conference Semifinals and the Conference Finals, teams will be re-seeded according to the same criteria as the Conference Quarterfinals with division leaders seeded first and second while the remaining teams will be seeded in order of regular-season points.
The last two spots are currently held by Victoria (28-32-4) with 60 points and Phoenix (25-34-5) with 55 points. Utah (22-34-7) is four points behind Phoenix and two points ahead of Long Beach (23-36-3). Victoria, which won two of its three games against Utah last weekend, remains home on Friday and Saturday to host Long Beach, who also plays at Fresno on Tuesday. Utah returns home to host Stockton on Thursday, Friday and Saturday while Phoenix will plays its only game of the week on Saturday when it hosts Fresno.
The defending Brabham Cup and Kelly Cup champion Aces clinched their third consecutive West Division title on Sunday. Looking to become the first team in ECHL history to repeat as regular season champion, Alaska is 45-14-5 and leads the league with 95 points, which is five points ahead of Las Vegas and seven points in front of Bakersfield (38-12-14). The Aces, who have lost back-to-back games for only the third time all season, continue their current eight-game road trip with games at Idaho, which is second in the West Division with 75 points (35-23-5), on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Alaska became only the second team to win both the regular season and postseason championships in the same season in 2006 joining the South Carolina Stingrays who won both the Kelly Cup and the Brabham Cup in 1997.
Only two points separates Las Vegas (38-12-14) and Bakersfield (39-14-10) in their battle for the Pacific Division title. The two will meet two more times with the first game being Friday at Bakersfield. It is the only game of the week for the Wranglers, who have won their last five games, while the Condors will host Fresno on Wednesday. Bakersfield set team records for wins and road wins with seven consecutive victories from Mar. 4-16. In addition to its trip to Bakersfield, Fresno, which is in third place in the Pacific and fifth in the conference with 72 points (33-24-6), will host Long Beach on Tuesday and visit Phoenix on Saturday.