SportzEdge.com

Whale Playoff Picture Still Fuzzy

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The Whale have helped their playoff chances greatly by winning eight of their last 11 games, and continue to hold down the seventh spot in the Eastern Conference, but still are a ways away from being able to breathe easily.

At 78 points, the Whale have put seven points of distance between themselves and the three teams, Manchester, Bridgeport and Albany, that are tied for the tenth spot at 71, but the defending-champion Norfolk Admirals continue to lurk dangerously in ninth, only three points behind the Whale.

Despite missing two of their top five scorers, Peter Holland and Kyle Palmieri, the Admirals have won six of their last eight games, and swept a pair from Binghamton, a 40-win team, this past weekend at home.  That’s it for Norfolk on home ice, though, as their last six games of the season are all on the road, where the Admirals are 13-17-1-1 on the year.

The Whale lead Norfolk in non-shootout wins, which is the first tiebreaker, 33-28, so the Admirals are just about going to have to win out to catch Connecticut in that column.  Both teams ended up with five points in the four-game season series between the two clubs, so the next tiebreaker would be goal differential.  The Whale are fairly well-positioned there too, as they currently stand dead even in goals-for/goals-against while the Admirals are -10.

Hershey is tied with Norfolk in points, but holds down the eighth-and-final playoff spot by virtue of having one more non-shootout win than do the Admirals.  The Whale’s tiebreaker is less advantageous against the Bears, should it go beyond ROW (regulation and overtime wins), as that season series also ended up five points apiece but Hershey is currently +6 in goal differential.

The three teams at 71 points all have six games left to play, so they can all get 83 points, meaning that the Whale has a “magic number” of six points either way to ensure that they cannot be caught by the Monarchs, Sound Tigers or Devils.  Albany can only get to 32 ROW, so the Whale have the tiebreaker there, and they have already ensured themselves of winning the season series with Manchester.  The Whale-Sound Tiger season series was another flat-footed tie, but Bridgeport is -19 in goal differential.

Further down, the skidding Worcester Sharks (67 points) and the St. John’s IceCaps (64 points) still have a mathematical chance to catch the Whale, but Connecticut has a magic number of only one point to assure themselves of finishing ahead of the IceCaps and three points to ensure that they cannot be surpassed by the Sharks.

Brandon Segal was shut out along with the rest of his teammates by Niklas Svedberg and the P-Bruins Sunday, but that was not before the veteran winger scored in six straight games.  That streak was not only the longest by a Whale player this year, but also the longest goal streak by a Whale/Wolf Pack player since back in November and December of 2006.  That’s when Ryan Callahan ripped off an eight-game goal-scoring run, which is the longest in franchise history.

Segal is up to 24 goals on the year, which is six more than the next-highest total on the Whale club (Kris Newbury and Christian Thomas both have 18) and only two shy of the career-high 26 that Segal had with Norfolk in 2008-09.

That 1-0 loss to Providence was the Whale’s last home game of the regular season, with five still to play, so like Norfolk, the Whale will be road warriors for the rest of the campaign.  This is an extreme scheduling oddity, as franchise has only ever played even as many as two consecutive road games to end a season once before, and that was in the Wolf Pack’s very first season of play, back in 1997-98.

Regardless of what happens in this season-ending road stretch, the Whale deserve much credit for making the most of their home-ice advantage in the second half.  They were miserable at home for most of the first half, just 5-10-1-0 in their first 16, but since the First of the Year, all they’ve done is get at least a point in 18 of their last 22 at the XL Center, going 15-4-1-2 in front of the home folks.  No matter how you slice it, that is one impressive run.