Story by Scott MacDonald
The Colorado Eagles picked up a big win against the Chicago Wolves this past weekend, and it’s making for quite the finish as the AHL enters its final week of the regular season. The win propelled the Eagles ahead of the Tucson Roadrunners and into the fourth and final playoff spot in the Pacific Division with just a few games remaining.
With the San Jose Barracuda earning the two-win sweep over the Grand Rapids Griffins last weekend, they clinched the second of four available divisional playoff spots, leaving just two more up for grabs. The San Diego Gulls, who are two points ahead of the Eagles in the No. 3 slot, will clinch a spot in the playoffs with just two more points, or one win, with three games left on their schedule.
With three teams neck and neck vying for the final two playoff positions, one is certain to be left out. Here’s how Colorado can ensure it is not them in the No. 5 spot by the regular season’s end on Sunday.
First and foremost, with just two games remaining for the Eagles, winning both games is of the utmost importance. Winning its last two remaining games would ensure Colorado finishes with 79 points and would have a solid chance — with a little help from some other Pacific Division teams — of earning a postseason berth.
Let’s start with Wednesday’s games. The San Diego Gulls take on the San Jose Barracuda. With the Barracuda already clinching a spot in the postseason, a win by San Jose would have no effect on Colorado’s playoff hopes, aside from not allowing San Diego any points in the standings. A Barracuda regulation win would keep Colorado just two points behind the Gulls. A win by San Diego clinches the third of four spots.
It’s the same situation for the Pacific Division-leading Bakersfield Condors, who take on Tucson at home on Wednesday night. With the Condors claiming a postseason berth already, and the Roadrunners just one point behind the Eagles in the No. 5 spot, a Condors win in regulation or overtime would keep Colorado in its current position as the final playoff team. A win by Tucson would earn it the No. 4 spot, while also temporarily booting the Eagles out of the playoff picture.
To summarize, for the Eagles to keep their playoff hopes alive, Wednesday night wins by Bakersfield and San Jose are critical. And if San Diego wins, its in the playoffs and the battle is down to Tucson and Colorado for the last spot entering the final weekend.
Friday and Saturday night’s matchups are where it gets a little tricky. Colorado takes on San Jose at home and ideally needs to win both either in regulation or in overtime or the shootout. Even if the Eagles split the series, winning just one of the two games against the Barracuda, as long as Tucson doesn’t gain more than three points in its final three games, the Eagles will hold on to the final spot.
But the Gulls and Roadrunners play each other in a two-game set this weekend in Tucson to close out the season. That said, one way or another, one or both of those teams will gain points in the standings. If the two teams split the series, with each earning one win, and the Eagles winning at least one game against San Jose this weekend, Colorado would still hold onto the fourth and final spot.
All scenarios aside, Tucson’s final three games are the most consequential for the Eagles. It’s possible Colorado can lose its final two games and still make it in, as long as Tucson doesn’t gain any more than one point in its last three games. Even if San Diego wins its last three games, the Eagles are in. Tucson, however, can only win one or two games, at most, that is, only if Colorado can win one or both of its final two games, also.
If any of the above scenarios work out in favor of Colorado, the Eagles will earn a playoff spot in their inaugural AHL season, and their campaign will continue for at least a couple more weeks.