Tonight is the 2016-17 regular season finale for the AHL. There are still a few variables yet to be cemented as far as the playoff picture goes and tonight’s game could serve as a minor preview into just what could be the opening round series. The Milwaukee Admirals and Grand Rapids Griffins met last season in the opening round. That ended under very disappointing circumstances. With the right results unfolding tonight the Admirals could get a shot at redemption against the Griffins in the opening round of this year’s playoffs.
What the landscape of the Central Division looks like right now is rather fascinating. The Admirals are the lone team who really has nothing to gain or lose today. It’s the battle for the Central Division crown as well as the fourth and final playoff spot that is up for grabs.
The Cleveland Monsters actually ended their season yesterday and did so getting shutout in a 1-0 game at home against the Manitoba Moose. That could prove to be disastrous as last night the Charlotte Checkers fought back to earn a point in a 3-2 overtime loss on the road against the Griffins. That means that the Monsters need the Checkers to lose in regulation tonight as they face the current Central Division leading Chicago Wolves on the road. If the Checkers were to lose in overtime the tiebreak would favor them based on regulation and overtime wins (ROW). The Monsters will be begging for a Wolves regulation win.
Meanwhile, the Griffins and Wolves are separated by a single point for the Central Division crown on the final day of the regular season. The Wolves have 99 points with 41 ROW while the Griffins have 98 points and 43 ROW. Who wins the Central Division title and who the Admirals will face in the opening round of the playoffs is still very much up in the air. That game in Chicago between the Wolves and Checkers which starts at 7:00 PM CDT is the one that will solidify the playoff picture coming out of the division.
In some respects, I assume yourselves much like myself are wondering where this season has gone for the Griffins as they had been -the- dominant team within the division for the longest time while the Wolves were in chase mode with their high powered offense. Yet, since March 29th, they have gone 3-5-0-1. That spell started with a 3-2 regulation loss at home to the Admirals. They have won their last two games entering tonight but the Griffins won those in a shootout and in overtime against the Checkers in playoff style games. The Griffins have been grinding to the finish line.
Furthering the grind, the Griffins haven’t been -as- dominant over the Admirals as recent years have felt like. The Admirals are 5-5-1-0 against the Griffins this season with the majority of their wins coming at the Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids. With a win tonight for the Admirals they will have beaten the Griffins as many times this season as they did the previous two seasons combined.
As the on-ice product for today goes: it is a mystery. It truly is. Last night, Milwaukee Admirals head coach Dean Evason stated that they would be resting some guys for tonight’s game which makes me believe we’ll be seeing a potential mix that includes: Derek Army, Stephen Perfetto, Rick Pinkston, Andrew O’Brien and Tyler Kelleher if they are healthy enough to play, and Jonas Gunnarsson in net.
If that is what the Admirals are planning in doing, and the Griffins go full assault with their strongest lineup in an effort to win the Central Division title, it doesn’t mean tonight’s game will be -bad- but it does create a heck of a test for players on the Admirals lineup that will be looking to make a bigger case for themselves on the playoff roster in the event that depth choices are required.
The Admirals are the ones tonight with nothing to play for. The Admirals players being rotated into the mix have a lot to play for. There will still a very competitive atmosphere on the ice but I’m expecting a more gritty and grinding style contest than the run and gun goal scoring extravaganza that was cooked up against the Rockford IceHogs last night. If the Admirals can win with their depth against a potential opening round opponent loading up to attempt a division title win? It could be a big confidence crusher for the Griffins and boost for the Admirals if that is in fact the first round series.
What are your expectations for tonight’s game and how the Central Division playoff picture is going to pan out? Do you think that the Milwaukee Admirals are right to rest their starting core that played these last two games and have been building momentum?
Be sure to keep updated with Admirals Roundtable through social media platform of your choice: follow along Twitter, like us on Facebook, get photo updates on Instagram, and listen along on SoundCloud.