Last Place to Playoffs? Final Regular Season Chapter to be Written this Weekend
by Keith Phillips
On Friday, February 8th, the Admirals were tied with the Adirondack Phantoms for the Eastern Conference's worst record. At 18-23-2-1 with 39 points, Norfolk sat 10 points out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. That night, they defeated the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins at Scope and began a two-month charge up the standings.
Next week, the Admirals could begin an Eastern Conference Quarterfinals playoff series – if they can lock themselves into the 2013 Calder Cup Playoffs this weekend.
Tonight's contests begin the final three days of the American Hockey League's regular season. The AHL will be incredibly busy with all 30 teams in action both tonight and tomorrow. Sunday's slate features 20 of 30 teams playing in the final day of the 2012-13 regular season, which began on Oct. 12th.
There are six teams battling for the three remaining spots in the Eastern Conference: the Portland Pirates, Norfolk Admirals, Connecticut Whale, Manchester Monarchs, Hershey Bears and Bridgeport Sound Tigers. Currently, the Pirates, Admirals and Whale are in playoff positions while the Monarchs, Bears and Sound Tigers are on the outside looking in. None of these teams have clinched a playoff berth or have been eliminated from playoff contention. That could change tonight.
The Admirals are currently tied with Connecticut for seventh place with 79 points. In sixth place, Portland is four points ahead of Norfolk and Connecticut at 83 points and is very close to locking in its playoff berth. Manchester and Hershey are only two points back of the Admirals and Whale at 77 points. Bridgeport (74 points) is a long shot to make the playoffs, trailing Norfolk and Connecticut by five points. Portland, Norfolk, Manchester, Hershey and Bridgeport each play Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Connecticut plays only Friday and Saturday, giving the other five contenders a "game in hand" on the Whale.
With six teams vying for three spots with three games remaining, there are countless scenarios that could play out this weekend. Norfolk begins the weekend in a playoff position and in control of its own destiny. If the Admirals earn at least five of the six possible standings points this weekend, they are guaranteed a playoff berth regardless of what any other teams do. If they earn fewer than five points, they will need help from other teams in order to clinch a spot.
It is possible that the Eastern Conference playoff puzzle may not be complete until the final buzzer of the conference's final game. The Bears host the Monarchs at Giant Center in Hershey, Pennsylvania, at 5:00 p.m. on Sunday. By the time the puck drops in Hershey, all other Eastern Conference games should be wrapping up. It is possible that there may be teams tuned in to the conclusion of the Bears/Monarchs game to see whether they will make the playoffs.
We will have you covered through the Admirals' many online resources. We will keep norfolkadmirals.com up-to-date with the latest game recaps. Like us on Facebook and get the latest from the rink. Twitter will have up-to-the-minute updates through @NorfolkAdmirals and @AdsGameUpdates. Listen to the games at 102.1-FM, 1490-AM, 1021TheGame.com or watch at AHLLive.com. The American Hockey League also has great resources available. Learn more about them at theahl.com. Included among the resources at theahl.com is the Playoff Primer – a breakdown of the playoff picture updated daily with clinching scenarios, qualification rules and tiebreaking procedures.
Even with the final three days worth of games to be played, Norfolk has much to be proud of considering how far they've come since early February. In 29 games since Feb. 8th, Norfolk has earned 40 of a possible 58 points (19-8-2-0, .690 points percentage). The Admirals trail only the AHL-leading Providence Bruins (22-5-0-2, .793) for the best record in the AHL since Feb. 8th. The Admirals have jumped from a 14th-place tie to a 7th-place tie, passing six teams in the process while tying a seventh. Each of those teams was in a playoff push of its own at least a majority of that time. Norfolk has turned a 10-point playoff deficit into a two-point surplus. In a nutshell, the Admirals have been in "playoff mode" for a couple of months now.
If the Admirals qualify for the playoffs, they would begin a best-of-five Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series on the road next week. This series would be in a 2-2-1 format (two games at the higher seed's home rink, two games at the lower seed's home rink, then a final game at the higher seed's home rink). Game 4 and Game 5 would be played if necessary.
The Admirals announced earlier this week that Game 3 and Game 4 (if necessary) of any potential opening round series of the 2013 Calder Cup Playoffs would be played on Wednesday and Thursday, May 1st and May 2nd. Both games would be played at 7:15 p.m. at Norfolk Scope Arena. Playoff packages for season ticket holders are on sale now and group ticket reservations are being taken. If the Admirals clinch a playoff berth, individual playoff tickets will go on sale on Monday, April 22nd, at 10:00 a.m. at the Norfolk Scope Box Office, any Ticketmaster Outlet, charge-by-phone at 1-800-745-3000 or online at ticketmaster.com.
We hope you've enjoyed the 2012-13 regular season with the Admirals as much as we've enjoyed experiencing it with you. We also hope that the second chapter of the season will begin next week, and that we will see you at Scope on May 1st and 2nd for playoff hockey. In the meantime, buckle up and enjoy the final three days of the regular season. It's sure to be an interesting ride.