PRINCETON, N.J. – Every team will be in action as the ECHL plays 14 games on Friday, including four games that could help clear up the North Division playoff picture and the second of three crucial games in Idaho between the defending champion Steelheads and Fresno, who are fighting for the fourth and final playoff spot in the West Division.
Beginning Thursday, Idaho and Fresno meet three times in three days. The Falcons travel to Boise in fifth place in the West Division, one point behind Idaho which has won its last four games and has not lost in regulation in March. The Steelheads return home following an eight-game road trip that saw them go 6-0-2 to earn 14 of a possible 16 points. Idaho, which is 15-1-3 in its last 19 games, is 36-21-6 with 78 points while Fresno, which is 5-4-1 in its last 10 games, is 35-21-7 with 77 points. The teams have met four times this season and all four meetings were in Fresno. The two have not played since December 17 when the Falcons won 3-2 to even the season series at two wins each.
Reading, which beat Toledo on Tuesday to move into first place in the North Division at 37-18-7 and 81 points, hosted Dayton on Thursday and will host Johnstown on Friday. The Royals hope to return to the postseason for the second straight year after advancing to the conference finals when they qualified for the playoffs for the first time since they moved to Reading in 2001-02. The Royals have won the last three games against Johnstown and are 3-0-0 at the Sovereign Center and 4-2-0 overall against the Chiefs.
Atlantic City travels to Trenton on Friday for the final meeting in the Garden State Cup Series that began October 14, 2001. The Titans have won the last three meetings at Trenton to improve to 3-1-0 at home and 4-3-2 overall against the Bullies, who are 1-2-1 on the road and 5-3-1 overall. Atlantic City is in second place in the North Division at 36-20-8 and 80 points, three points ahead of third-place Trenton at 34-20-9 and 77 points.
One point behind Wheeling for the fourth and final playoff spot in the North Division, Toledo (35-23-5) hosts Dayton (21-36-5) on Friday and travels to Dayton on Saturday. The Storm, which is 4-1-1 in its last six games, is 3-0-1 at home and 6-0-1 overall against Dayton.
Peoria hosts Wheeling in the first game of a two-game set that has North Division playoff implications. Wheeling currently holds the fourth and final playoff berth in the division at 36-23-4 and 76 points, one point ahead of Peoria at 34-22-7 and Toledo at 35-23-5. The Rivermen have won four of their last five games and are 11-4-0 in their last 15 games while Wheeling has lost three of its last four games and four of its last six. The Rivermen are 1-0-1 at home and 2-4-1 overall against the Nailers.
South Carolina can secure its Kelly Cup Playoff berth on Friday at Greenville with a win or a loss in either overtime or a shootout. The Stingrays, however, are in second place in the East Division at 35-21-8 and 78 points, two points behind Charlotte, which clinched its postseason spot when Pee Dee lost at Louisiana on Wednesday, and two points ahead of Columbia, which played at Augusta on Thursday and will host Charlotte on Friday. The first-place finishers in the East Division and the South Division will be seeded first and second, based on points, in the American Conference playoffs. South Carolina is 0-2-1 in the last three meetings with the Grrrowl and 1-1-1 at Greenville and 3-4-1 overall.
Playing at Augusta on Thursday and hosting Charlotte on Friday, Columbia needs any combination of three points from wins or overtime and shootout losses or losses by Pee Dee to clinch a Kelly Cup Playoff berth for the fourth straight year. The Inferno is in third place in the East Division at 33-18-10 and 76 points, but entered Thursday with four games in hand on leader Charlotte and three games in hand on second place South Carolina. Columbia, which has finished atop its division each of the past two seasons, has won two of the last three meetings with Charlotte and is 1-1-2 at home and 4-3-2 overall against the Checkers. Charlotte is in first place at 37-22-6 and 80 points and has already clinched a playoff berth after missing the postseason the last two seasons. The Checkers, who are 2-2-1 in their last five road games, are 3-1-0 at Columbia and 5-4-0 overall against the Inferno.
Long Beach will look to strengthen its hold on second place in the West Division while San Diego wants to keep its postseason hopes alive. The Ice Dogs are in second place at 38-18-8 and 84 points, four points behind Alaska and one point ahead of Bakersfield, while San Diego is in sixth place at 32-25-6 and 70 points, seven points behind Fresno and eight points behind Idaho. Long Beach, which is 4-4-3 in its last 11 games, is 1-1-1 at San Diego and 2-2-2 overall against the Gulls.
Leading the league with 93 points and 44 wins, Pensacola enters the weekend needing nine points to clinch the Brabham Cup, which has been awarded annually to the ECHL regular season points champion since the league began in 1988-89. The Ice Pilots, who are five points ahead of Alaska and eight points ahead of Florida, will visit Augusta on Friday. Pensacola has won the last four meetings and is 2-0-1 at Augusta and 5-0-1 overall against the Lynx. The Ice Pilots need seven points to become the 15th team in league history to reach 100 points and with six more victories can become the sixth team in 17 seasons to win 50 games. Pensacola is 22-3-1 in its last 26 games, including a team record 12-game winning streak, and has set team records for wins, points and road wins (22).
Gwinnett continues its five-game trip through the West Division with the first of two games at Bakersfield. Bakersfield is in third place in the West Division at 37-19-9 and 83 points, one point behind Long Beach and five points ahead of fourth-place Idaho. The Condors are 1-2-0 in their last three home games while Gwinnett is 1-1-0 on its current road swing that continues Saturday against Bakersfield and concludes Sunday at San Diego.
Alaska wraps up its final regular season home stand hosting Las Vegas, which beat the Aces 3-2 in overtime on Wednesday, on Friday and Saturday. The Aces sit atop the West Division at 40-17-8 and 88 points, four points ahead of second place Long Beach. Alaska has not lost in regulation at home since February 5 (6-0-3) and is 20-8-6 overall at Sullivan Arena. Las Vegas, which is 4-1-0 in its last five road games and 16-14-4 overall on the road, is in seventh place in the West at 28-28-8 and 64 points.
Mississippi will look to improve its playoff seed in the American Conference when it hosts Louisiana on Friday. The Sea Wolves, who have won their last two home games and are 19-11-2 at home, are in third place in the South Division and in sixth place in the conference at 34-22-6 and 74 points. Mississippi is 2-1-1 at home and 3-3-1 overall against Louisiana.
Florida is 38-18-9 with 85 points and eight points behind league-leading Pensacola in the South Division. The Everblades can tighten their grip on the third seed in the American Conference when they host Victoria on Friday and Saturday. Florida, which beat the Salmon Kings 7-1 in the first meeting on March 15, has won its last five home games and is 6-0-1 in its last seven and 19-8-5 overall at Germain Arena.