American Conference Playoff Race Heats Up

A tight race is developing for the final two playoff spots in the American Conference. Five teams are separated by just five points for the seventh and eighth seeds in the conference which are currently held by Toledo and Reading.

The Walleye have 68 points and play six of their nine remaining games on the road. Rookie Maxime Tanguay leads Toledo in scoring with 62 points (22g-40a) while J.C. Sawyer leads all defensemen with 21 goals and 54 points. This week, Toledo hosts Cincinnati on Friday before visiting the Cyclones on Saturday and Wheeling on Sunday.

Reading faces a tough road ahead to hold onto the final playoff spot in the American Conference. The Royals play just three of their final 10 games at home and have a six-game road trip starting March 24. Their cause is sure to be helped by the return of forward Ben Gordon, who rejoined the team yesterday after spending two weeks with Abbotsford in the American Hockey League. Gordon is tied for the team lead with 21 goals and is second on the squad with 58 points despite playing in only 46 games. Reading hosts Charlotte on Thursday and Johnstown on Saturday while visiting Elmira on Friday.

Trenton has won three straight games and seven of its last 10 to move within one point of Reading for the eighth place spot. The Devils swept a pair of games against Toledo on Wednesday and Friday before ending Kalamazoo’s 11-game unbeaten streak on Saturday. Jeff Prough paces the Devils with 25 goals and 51 points, while rookie Matt Vokes is second on the team with 45 points (17g-28a) to go along with a team-leading plus-minus rating of +14. Trenton opens a three-game southern swing at Charlotte on Friday before playing at Gwinnett on Saturday and Sunday.

Wheeling enters the week three points behind Reading but has the fewest games remaining of the playoff hopefuls with eight. Mitch Ganzak ranks second among ECHL defensemen 43 points, and leads all league blue liners with 36 assists. The Nailers play three straight games against Kalamazoo this week, visiting Wings Stadium for games on Wednesday and Friday before returning to Wheeling for the series finale on Saturday.

Gwinnett, which trails Reading by three points, plays eight of its final nine games at home as it looks to qualify for the playoffs for the seventh straight season. Rookie Drew Paris is tied for third among all league defensemen with 40 points, and Adam Berti leads the Gladiators in scoring with 51 points. The Gladiators face a crucial two-game series this week hosting Trenton on Saturday and Sunday.

Note: The Idaho Steelheads became the first ECHL team to lock up a spot in the 2010 Kelly Cup Playoffs last Friday, March 12 while also capturing first place in the West Division. On March 16, the Steelheads will be able to clinch the National Conference title and a first-round bye in the 2010 playoffs by earning at least one point in their game against Utah.

The South Carolina Stingrays also locked up a berth in the 2010 Kelly Cup Playoffs on March 12 with their win against Florida. The Stingrays continue to battle for first place in the South Division and the American Conference title.