The first week after the All-Star game is a great time to take stock of the current playoff situation. With changes to the league's playoff structure thanks to the California Five, it's good to review the rules.
Like the NHL, the AHL is divided into divisions. However, the qualification rules are a little different. The top four teams in each division qualify for the playoffs and play 1v4 and 2v3 to determine a champion, who will play the other division in their conference who will play for the Cup. The only squirrelly bit is the crossover rule, likely to be invoked this year in the West. If the fifth place team in the division with eight teams (the Central, for example) has a better record than the fourth place team in the seven-team divison, they cross over. Right now that looks likely.
Texas plays in the Pacific Division, where not everyone is equal. The Stars and the San Antonio Rampage (Colorado Avalanche) play 76 games like the rest of the league. The rest of the teams in the division only play 68. This means things are based on points percentage. That does weird stuff, like making it so you can drop in the standings by getting a loser point. However, it does paint a more accurate picture of the playoff picture throughout the entire season.
I did a lot of math to determine what the league's teams need in order to make the playoffs (or to slip out of the playoffs). You can see that here.
The important things to note are that Texas is in pole position to make the playoffs. With most of their schedule behind them and nearly a .600 points percentage, they would have to go on a six-game losing streak to drop out of the playoffs at this moment. However, their current second place spot is likely to be as good as it gets. The Stars can't catch current front-runners Ontario (Los Angeles Kings). Their .714 would require Texas to win 23 games to match. That would be 23 games out of a remaining 25. Seems unlikely.
Some other notes from around the league:
- Toronto's farm team, the Marlies, are so good this season that they've already guaranteed a .500 record. Further, they would have to lose essentially all of their remaining games to not make the playoffs at this point. We'll see how yesterday's trade affects that though.
- Even with their .588 record, Texas would be outside the playoffs in the Central Division, where the 5th seeded Checkers (Carolina Hurricanes) are at .587.
- Dreams of a Texas v. San Antonio playoff matchup are dwindling. In seven years, the two teams have never played against each other in the postseason. The Rampage started the season hot, but they collapsed after the recall of Calvin Pickard and many other injuries. Their current road slog, the Rodeo Road Trip, puts them in six cities over 23 days, playing 11 games and logging 12,077 miles. Not a likely time to recover.
The Stars couldn't overcome a third-period outburst by the Rampage in a game that saw five of the seven goals scored on special teams. Texas and San Antonio were tied heading into the third period. A power play goal from Garrett Thompson ended up being the game winner, but Mikko Rantanen and Reid Petryk tacked two more onto the scoring for the home side.
Matej Stranky opened the scoring for Texas in the first period with a power play goal. San Antonio answered back twice to put the Rampage up 2-1 after two. Travis Morin's 400th career point tied things at two in the second. The 2-on-1 shorthanded tally was his 13th goal of the year but the last Texas goal of the night.
Philippe Desrosiers took the loss with 30 saves on 35 shots. Maxime Lagace had been slated to start but was held out with a nagging lower body injury. John Muse backed up.
The I-35 rivalry continued with Texas taking a 4-3 decision Saturday evening in Cedar Park. Frequent contributor Travis Morin had a goal and two assists in the contest, which saw Texas jump out to a 3-0 lead after twenty minutes.
"We bounced back from last night," said Coach Laxdal, referring to Friday's 5-2 loss in San Antonio. "Our team has been good at that all year. It was a well-rounded 60 minute effort."
The Stars were rewarded for going to the dirty, tough areas of the ice against a Rampage club that likes to get physical and use size to its advantage. Coach Laxdal called it a "gutsy effort" from his skaters.
"It's heated up every time against San Antonio," added Matej Stransky. "They are a hard working team, on the body every time. We don't want to give them anything, so we have to stay on their bodies."
San Antonio played a chess game on lines all night, cycling through three lines often. Laxdal matched Morin's line with Rantanen to "make him play defense" and neutralize the rookie, who had four points Friday night. With Rantanen neutralized, Borna Rendulic stepped up with a pair of goals in the second to make Texas nervous. The Stars captain answered back with another play off traffic in front. Julius Honka's point shot rebounded to Morin for the 4-2 tally.
Laxdal noted, "That fourth goal was huge for us, gave us some breathing room and helped us manage our game."
Jason Dickinson had a pair of goals, including the late game winner, as Texas defeated the Moose this evening in Winnipeg in the first game of the season between the two. Maxime Lagace returned to the lineup after a lower body injury held him out for several games. He stopped 27 of 29.
The Stars power play was a big catalyst on the night, going 3-for-7 and obviously scoring all of the night's goals. Texas cashed in 5-on-3 as well.
Brendan Ranford had two assists to continue a point streak now at four games, and Brett Ritchie had the Stars' only other goal on the night.
The game winning tally came with Patrice Cormier in the box for delay of game. Jason Dickinson beat Eric Comrie with just 47 seconds in the game, giving Manitoba no time to respond.
The Week Ahead
Texas continues its trip to Manitoba with another game in Winnipeg tonight. The weekend will bring two games against Lake Erie Monsters (Columbus Blue Jackets), closing out the season series with that squad. Toby Petersen, assistant coach for the Monsters, will make his first return to the Cedar Park Center since hoisting the Cup and then retiring at the end of the 2014 season.
Maxime Lagace returned from injury to lead Texas to victory on Tuesday night. The Stars are still without two big scoring threats: Greg Rallo and Justin Dowling. Both were injured on dangerous plays that earned the perpetrators suspensions.