Do you like tight playoff races? Yes? Good. This article is just for you then. The race for the last playoff spot in the AHL’s Central Division will come right down to the end.
Setting the Playoff Scene
Let’s set the scene for you. The Cleveland Monsters and Charlotte Checkers are in a virtual tie for the last playoff spot. They each have a points percentage of .568. The Monsters have 84 points while the Checkers have 83 points. Because the Checkers have three games left and the Monsters have two games left, the Checkers occupy the last playoff spot, for now.
This means that the Monsters need help even if they win out. The Monsters host the Manitoba Moose at Quicken Loans Arena this Thursday and Friday. A pair of wins by the Monsters will force the Checkers to get five of a possible six points to clinch the last playoff spot. If Charlotte earns four points or less, then it’s the Monsters who will play in the postseason.
What happens if they finish tied in the standings? Great question. The AHL uses a form of the NHL’s ROW as their first tiebreaker. According to the AHL website, they use win percentage in non-shootout wins as the first tiebreaker. Advantage Charlotte. Because the Monsters have seven shootout wins to the Checkers’ three shootout wins, Charlotte advances if the two teams finish tied.
Ideally, the Monsters get in if they win both games against Manitoba and the Checkers lose one of their last three games. The Checkers can also lose twice in overtime or a shootout. So long as the Checkers lose two points and the Monsters win out, the Monsters will return to the postseason.
Considering what this team has been through, that is one heck of an accomplishment.
"We've just got to find a way to keep winning hockey games."
— Cleveland Monsters (@monstershockey) April 8, 2017
Rising Up from the Dead
For most of the season, the Monsters occupied the bottom of the standings. They had a new coach in John Madden. Many of their playoff heroes from last season’s Calder Cup team are with the Blue Jackets. Several rookies came in and were eventually expected to make key contributions for this team.
Then many things happened that affected the team, both good and bad.
The Columbus Blue Jackets needed help at different times. Important players such as Sonny Milano, Markus Hannikainen and even Justin Scott got called up to the big club. While they were gone, other players needed to step up.
Then injuries started taking a major toll. Milano came back to the Monsters but missed some time. Key contributors Daniel Zaar, Alex Broadhurst and Paul Bittner have all missed significant time due to different injuries.
Despite all that, this Monsters team never quit. They kept fighting. They kept getting better. Most importantly, they got healthy.
The result? The Monsters are 11-1-1 in their last 13 games overall to make this playoff race a photo finish. A couple of unsung heroes have shined during this streak.
Let’s start with perhaps one of the most under-reported waiver pickups this season. On Feb. 27, the Blue Jackets claimed Zac Dalpe from the Minnesota Wild. The Wild tried to reset the clock on Dalpe only to have GM Jarmo Kekalainen and company jump in and intercept him. This move has paid huge dividends.
All Dalpe has done is score eight goals, including scoring goals in six straight before their last game against Grand Rapids. He immediately found a home on the Monsters’ top line. He’s a big reason the Monsters have won 11 of their last 13.
Some fresh faces have also instilled energy to the Monsters. The Blue Jackets signed big center Sam Vigneault from Clarkson. Although he’s still adjusting to the pro game, he’s looked good in limited action and you can see why the Blue Jackets signed him.
QMJHL MVP Vitali Abramov actually made me jump out of my seat in my first viewing of him since coming to Cleveland. He scored his first two professional points Sunday against Grand Rapids, including his first goal. He’s fast and comes as advertised. If the Monsters make the playoffs, he could be a huge reason for that.
I can’t talk about the Monsters without mentioning how great Anton Forsberg has been. He has a 2.27 goals-against (seventh in league) and a .926 save percentage (tied for third in league.) Forsberg also has 26 wins, tied for fifth in the league. Considering the offensive struggles of this team, he’s easily their MVP.
— Cleveland Monsters (@monstershockey) April 10, 2017
I said earlier that the Monsters host Manitoba twice to end the season. The Checkers finish on the road. They play in Grand Rapids Wednesday. Because the NHL regular season is over, the Red Wings will send reinforcements to Grand Rapids in preparation for the playoffs. That’s not an easy game for Charlotte. Then they stay in Grand Rapids and play again Friday. After that, they have to travel down to Rosemont to play the Chicago Wolves to end the season.
These games are for all the marbles. Want to watch some incredible do-or-die hockey? These last games for the Monsters and Checkers are must-see TV.
If the Monsters get into the playoffs, it will be one of the better runs to the postseason in recent memory. Two wins this week would make it a 13-1-1 finish. Can they finish this off? We’ll all see soon enough.