PRINCETON, N.J. – This weekend features key match-ups in both the North Division and the South Division where 14 teams are still mathematically alive for a berth in the Kelly Cup Playoffs as well as in the National Conference where two postseason spots remain and Las Vegas and Bakersfield continue their battle for the Pacific Division lead.
In the North Division, only seven points separates the top five teams and all seven teams can still qualify for the five postseason spots. The postseason berths in the North Division and the South Division are awarded to the first-place team and the next four-best teams based on regular-season point totals.
Here are some of the key weekend match-ups:
Las Vegas at Bakersfield on Friday
The first of two remaining regular season meetings between Las Vegas (38-12-14) and Bakersfield (40-14-10) who begin the weekend tied for the Pacific Division lead with 90 points apiece. The Condors have won the last three meetings, including 3-0 at home on Jan. 31, to take a 3-2-0 lead in the season series.
Gwinnett at Texas on Friday and Saturday
It will be a battle for the South Division lead when Gwinnett visits Texas on Friday and Saturday. The Gladiators, who have won their last three games and are 9-2-1 in the last 12 games, are in first place with 83 points, two points ahead of third-place Texas which is 5-2-0 in its last seven games. The Wildcatters are 2-0-0 at home with a 3-1 win on Nov. 11 and a 5-4 overtime win on Nov. 10 and 3-3-0 overall against Gwinnett. The Gladiators won the last meeting 4-2 on Feb. 9 to improve to 3-2-1 in the season series. Looking for their first trip to the Kelly Cup Playoffs since relocating to Beaumont in 2003-04, the Wildcatters have 31 more points than their best season in 2003-04 and have surpassed their highs with 36 wins, 19 road wins and 17 home wins. Gwinnett has reached the postseason every season since relocating to Georgia in 2003-04 and advanced to the Kelly Cup Finals a year ago.
Charlotte at Augusta on Friday
Charlotte is 35-24-3 and holding the fifth and last playoff spot in the South Division with 73 points, two points ahead of Augusta (34-26-3) and two points behind South Carolina (34-24-7). The Lynx are 4-0-1 in their last five home games including a pair of wins against Charlotte to improve to 3-1-0 at home and 4-4-0 overall against the Checkers, who are 4-1-0 in their last five games. Charlotte is trying to reach the postseason three years in a row for the first time since advancing in each of its first five seasons from 1994-98 while Augusta is trying for its first back-to-back Kelly Cup Playoffs appearances since 2000 and 2001.
Columbia at Florida on Friday and Saturday
Florida is 38-20-6 and in second place in the South Division with 82 points, one point behind Gwinnett and one point ahead of Texas. The Inferno won the last meeting 2-1 in overtime at Columbia on Mar. 3, but Florida leads the season series 5-1-1 including 3-0-0 at home. The Everblades have advanced to the postseason every season since joining the league in 1998-99 and reached the Kelly Cup Finals in 2004 and 2005.
Trenton at Wheeling on Friday
Trenton is in fourth place with 67 points, one point behind Toledo and one point ahead of Reading, as it looks for its third straight postseason appearance, including winning the Kelly Cup championship in 2005. Wheeling has won its last three games to keep alive the hopes for its first back-to-back postseason appearances since 1997 and 1998. The Nailers have won the last two meetings with Trenton and are 4-3-1 overall and 2-0-1 at home against the Titans.
Johnstown at Dayton on Friday and Saturday and Dayton at Johnstown on Sunday
Dayton has posted back-to-back wins against Toledo to improve to 33-22-6 and move into second place in the North Division with 72 points, only one point behind North Division leader Cincinnati. Johnstown is six points behind Reading for the final postseason berth in the North Division as the Chiefs try for their first back-to-back Kelly Cup Playoff appearances since 2001 and 2002 and their 12th postseason appearance in 19 seasons. The Bombers have won the last three meetings and are 1-1-1 at home and 4-1-1 overall against the Chiefs, who are 2-1-0 at Dayton. Dayton already has 26 more points than a year ago and the most wins and points since their last postseason appearance in 2001-02 when they won the division with 92 points (40-12-12) and advanced to the Kelly Cup Finals.
Stockton at Utah on Friday and Saturday
Winning its last three games and going 6-1-0 in the last seven games, Stockton has 70 points and has clinched a berth in the Kelly Cup Playoffs while Utah, which begins a six-game home stand on Thursday, is trying to reach the postseason for the second straight year. Utah won the last meeting 5-3 at Stockton on Jan. 14 to improve to 5-3-1 all-time against the Thunder, which leads the season series 3-1-0.
Reading at Toledo on Friday and Saturday
Only two points separate third-place Toledo (33-28-2) and fifth-place Reading (30-29-6) in the North Division. The Royals are 4-3-1 against the Storm, including a 3-1 win in the last meeting at Toledo on Dec. 16. Toledo is 3-1-0 at home and 4-4-0 overall against Reading. The Storm can reach the postseason for the third consecutive year for the first time since 1997-99 having advanced to the Kelly Cup Playoffs each of the last two years, including the conference finals last season. Reading, which has won 10 of its last 15 games, is looking for its fourth consecutive trip to the Kelly Cup Playoffs.
Long Beach at Victoria on Friday and Saturday
Victoria is 8-3-3 in its last 14 games and in seventh place in the National Conference with 60 points, which gives it one of the two final postseason berths. Long Beach has 51 points and is tied for ninth place with Utah. The Salmon Kings, who have not advanced to the Kelly Cup Playoffs in their first two seasons since relocating to Victoria, have won the last three meetings and are 5-2-0 overall and 2-1-0 at home against the Ice Dogs, who have reached the postseason each of the last two years after failing to qualify as an expansion team in 2003-04.
Alaska at Idaho on Friday and Saturday
Having already clinched the West Division, the Aces continue their quest to become the first team in ECHL history to win back-to-back Brabham Cup championships while Idaho has 75 points and is one point ahead of Fresno for fourth place in the National Conference. Alaska won 5-2 on Wednesday to improve to 3-0-1 in the season series and 17-11-2 all-time against the Steelheads.
Augusta at Pensacola on Saturday
Augusta begins the weekend in sixth place with 71 points, two points behind Charlotte, which currently has the fifth and final postseason berth in the South Division. The Lynx have won the last three games with Pensacola, all at Augusta, and are 3-1-0 at home and 6-2-0 overall against the Ice Pilots.
Cincinnati at Trenton on Saturday and Sunday
Cyclones, who have won their last two road games, lead the North Division with 73 points, one point ahead of Dayton and six points in front of fourth-place Trenton. Titans are 2-1-0 at home and won the last meeting 3-2 at Cincinnati on Mar. 17 to improve to 5-3-0 against the Cyclones.
Charlotte at South Carolina on Sunday
South Carolina is in fourth place with 75 points and has a two-point lead on Charlotte and a four-point lead on Augusta, but the Stingrays have played three more games than the Checkers and two more games than the Lynx. South Carolina, which has won seven of its last eight games heading into Thursday’s game at Augusta, won the last meeting 6-2 at Charlotte on Mar. 8. The Checkers, however, lead the season series 7-3-0 including a 4-0-0 record at South Carolina. South Carolina won the Kelly Cup in 1997 and 2001 and has reached the postseason in every one of its 13 seasons which is the league record for most playoff appearances and consecutive playoff appearances.
Scores, standings and Kelly Cup Playoffs information can be found at ECHL.com.