PRINCETON, N.J. – Heading into the weekend, eight teams have already clinched their berth in the Kelly Cup Playoffs while another 15 teams continue to battle for 10 remaining spots.
A regulation win by Gwinnett against South Carolina on Thursday would give the Gladiators 85 points and 39 wins which would clinch a postseason berth in the postseason for both the Gladiators and the Florida Everblades, who lead the South Division with 86 points. There are six teams battling for five playoff berths in the South Division. Augusta is in fourth place with 79 points. Charlotte and South Carolina are tied for fifth place with 77 points although the Checkers have played two less games and have three more wins than the Stingrays.
Victoria won 7-1 at Utah on Wednesday to become the latest team to qualify for the Kelly Cup Playoffs, the first postseason trip in three seasons for the first and only ECHL team located outside the United States. The Salmon Kings clinching leaves only one postseason spot in the National Conference, a spot that is currently held by Phoenix with 57 points, six points ahead of Long Beach and Utah.
Dayton is the only team to clinch one of the five postseason spots in the North Division and the other six teams in the division are all still mathematically alive for the remaining four berths. Cincinnati has 75 points and needs only one point to secure its spot while Toledo has 73 points and could clinch with a win at Johnstown on Friday. Trenton has 71 points, which puts them four points ahead of Reading, which currently holds the last playoff berth in the North Division. The Royals are three points in front of Johnstown and Wheeling, who each have 64 points and a 29-31-6 record.
Alaska Aces at Las Vegas Wranglers on Friday and Saturday
Las Vegas is 40-12-14 with 94 points and can move into a tie for the ECHL lead with a pair of regulation wins against Alaska, which is 46-15-6 with 98 points. The Wranglers won 4-2 at Las Vegas on Feb. 13 to improve to 1-0-0 at home and 4-0-0 overall this season and 17-12-1 all-time in the regular season against the Aces. Alaska has already clinched the West Division and is trying to become the first team to repeat as regular season champion. The Aces and Wranglers finished first and second last season with 113 points and 112 points, respectively, and tied for the league lead with 53 wins each. Their point totals were the second-highest and third-highest point totals in ECHL history behind only Louisiana’s record of 116 points in 2001-02. The 53 wins tied them with Florida in 1999-2000 for the second-highest total in league history, three wins behind Louisiana’s record of 56 wins in 2001-02. Alaska and Las Vegas are looking to become the only team besides Trenton (104 points in 2000-01 and 102 points in 2001-02) to score 100 points in back-to-back seasons. 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.
Florida Everblades at Texas Wildcatters on Friday and Saturday
It is the last regular season meeting between the two teams who are separated by a single point for the South Division lead. Florida is 40-20-6 with 86 points while Texas is 38-20-9 with 85 points. The Wildcatters won the last meeting 4-1 on Dec. 30 to improve to 2-0-1 at home and 5-2-1 overall against Florida this season. Florida has not missed the Kelly Cup Playoffs since joining the league in 1998-99 and in 2004 and 2005 the Everblades advanced to the Kelly Cup Finals. The Wildcatters, who are looking for their first trip to the Kelly Cup Playoffs since they relocated to Beaumont in 2003-04, have set team highs with 38 wins, 19 road wins and 19 home wins after being unable to play last season in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita.
Long Beach Ice Dogs at Idaho Steelheads on Friday and Saturday
Long Beach is still fighting for the eighth and final postseason berth in the National Conference while Idaho is battling to secure home-ice advantage for the first round of the Kelly Cup Playoffs. Long Beach is 24-39-3 and tied for ninth place with Utah with 51 points, six points behind Phoenix. The Steelheads are 38-24-5 with 81 points, three points in front of Stockton and five points ahead of Fresno. The Ice Dogs are looking for their third straight Kelly Cup Playoffs appearance while Idaho has advanced to the Kelly Cup Playoffs in every one of its first four seasons including 2003-04 when they became only the second expansion team in ECHL history and the first since 1990 to win the championship.
Victoria Salmon Kings at Utah Grizzlies on Friday and Saturday
Utah, which reached the postseason in its first season in 2006-07, is still fighting for the eighth and final postseason berth in the National Conference. The Grizzlies are 22-38-7 and tied for ninth place with Long Beach with 51 points, six points behind Phoenix. Victoria won 7-1 at Utah on Wednesday to qualify for the Kelly Cup Playoffs for the first time in its three-year history.
Cincinnati Cyclones at Wheeling Nailers on Friday and Saturday
Wheeling has back-to-back overtime wins to extend its season-high winning streak to six games. The Nailers are 29-31-6 and tied for sixth place with Johnstown at 64 points, three points behind Reading for the fifth and final playoff spot in the North Division. Cincinnati is 35-26-5 with 75 points and needs only one point to clinch its berth in the postseason. Wheeling won the last meeting 4-2 at Cincinnati on Mar. 20 and leads the season series 5-4-0 including 2-1-0 at home. The Cyclones, who had a voluntary suspension for each of the last two years, are trying to reach the Kelly Cup Playoffs for the third time in their four seasons, including 2003 when they lost in Game 7 of the conference finals to eventual champion Atlantic City. The Nailers have reached the Kelly Cup Playoffs twice in the last three years and advanced to the division finals last season.
South Carolina Stingrays at Augusta Lynx on Friday and Saturday
Heading into its game at Gwinnett on Thursday, South Carolina is 34-24-9 and tied for fifth place with Charlotte (37-25-3) with 77 points, two points behind Augusta at 38-26-3. The Lynx have won the last two meetings, 6-5 in a shootout on Mar. 22 and 2-1 in overtime on Feb. 20, to improve to 3-1-0 at home and 5-4-0 overall this season against the Stingrays. Augusta is trying to make its first back-to-back Kelly Cup Playoff appearances since 2000 and 2001 while the Stingrays have not missed the postseason in any of their 13 seasons since joining the ECHL in 1993-94. South Carolina holds the league record for most playoff appearances and consecutive playoff appearances and in 1997 and 2001 won the Kelly Cup.
Dayton Bombers at Reading Royals on Friday
Dayton is 35-22-8 and leads the North Division with 78 points, which is 32 points more than a year ago, and three points more than second-place Cincinnati. It is the most wins and points for the Bombers since their last postseason appearance in 2001-02 when they finished first in the division with 92 points (40-20-12) and advanced the Kelly Cup Finals. Reading currently holds the last playoff berth in the North Division with 67 points, which is three points in front of Johnstown and Wheeling, who each have 64 points and records of 29-31-6. The Royals won 4-3 on Mar. 16 and are 2-2-0 at home against the Bombers, who lead the season series 5-4-0.
Gwinnett Gladiators at Columbia Inferno on Friday
Heading into its game against South Carolina on Thursday, Gwinnett is 38-21-7 and in third place in the South Division with 83 points, two points behind Texas and three points behind Florida. Gwinnett is 3-0-1 at Columbia and 7-1-1 overall against the Inferno.
Toledo Storm at Johnstown Chiefs on Friday
Toledo is 35-28-3 and in third place in the North Division with 73 points while Johnstown is 29-31-6 with 64 points and tied for sixth place with Wheeling, three points behind Reading. The Storm won the last meeting 4-2 on Mar. 11 to take a 5-3 lead in the season series. Toledo, which reached the conference finals a year ago, is trying to reach the postseason for three straight years for the first time since it qualified in each of its first eight seasons from 1991-99. The Chiefs are trying for their 12th postseason appearance and their first back-to-back trips to the Kelly Cup Playoffs since 2001 and 2002.
Bakersfield Condors at Fresno Falcons on Friday
Bakersfield is 40-16-11 with 91 points and has already secured home ice for the opening round while Fresno is 34-25-8 and in sixth place in the conference with 76 points, two points behind Stockton and five points behind Idaho. Bakersfield won 5-4 in overtime at home on Mar. 21 to improve to 6-0-2 this year against Fresno, which is 2-0-1 at home and 2-3-3 overall in the season series against the Condors. The Condors have reached the postseason each of the last three years while the Falcons are making their second straight appearance having reached the National Conference Finals last year, losing in double overtime in Game 7 at Alaska.
Phoenix RoadRunners at Stockton Thunder on Friday
Phoenix, which did not qualify for the Kelly Cup Playoffs in its inaugural season in 2005-06, currently holds the last postseason spot in the National Conference and has a six-point lead on Long Beach and Utah following its win at Bakersfield on Wednesday. Making its first playoff appearance in its second season, Stockton is 34-22-10 and in fifth place in the conference with 78 points, three points behind Idaho for home-ice advantage in the first round of the Kelly Cup Playoffs. The Thunder has won the last two meetings and is 3-0-1 overall and 1-0-0 at home against Phoenix this season.
Scores, standings and Kelly Cup Playoffs information can be found at ECHL.com.