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AHL Playoff Race Tightens for Griffins

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Brendan Smith will return to the line-up tomorrow and has been a big contributor to the Griffins in his first season. 

<em>(Photo credit: Mark Newman)</em>
Brendan Smith will return to the line-up tomorrow and has been a big contributor to the Griffins in his first season. (Photo credit: Mark Newman)

With just 6 regular season games to go, the Grand Rapids Griffins are on the outside looking in for the AHL playoffs. The Griffins currently sit fifth in the North Division with 80 points, 1 point behind the Toronto Marlies. However, the Griffins have played fewer games than the Marlies at this point in the season.

The AHL playoff set-up is a bit different than the NHL: the Western Conference has two divisions, the North and the West. The West division has 8 teams while the North has 7 teams. The top four teams from each division make the playoffs. However, if the 5th place team in the West has more points than the 4th place in the North then the 5th place team gets the spot that the 4th place team would get. The way things sit now, the Peoria Rivermen sit in 5th with 83 points with the Oklahoma City Barons tied in points and the San Antonio Rampage a single point back. The Griffins will most likely need to move all the way up to 3rd place in the division to assure a spot.

Follow the jump for the rest of playoff talk for the Griffins.

The Griffins head into this weekend with a pair of games against division foe Abbotsford Heat and can pick up four crucial points that would widen the current two point gap with Abbotsford. Let's take a look at the remaining schedule.

Remaining Schedule:

Date Opponent Home/Away Division Rank
4/1 Abbotsford Heat Away 6th-North
4/2 Abbotsford Heat Away 6th-North
4/6 Milwaukee Admirals Away 1st-West
4/8 Abbotsford Heat Home 6th-North
4/9 Rockford Ice Hogs Away 8th-West
4/10 Milwaukee Admirals Away 1st-West

As you can see, the schedule is not very favorable in terms of games at home as all but one come away from Van Andel and there is a stretch of three games in three nights. As important as this weekend is for the Griffins, next weekend is the ultimate deciding factor for their playoff chances. I'd say they'd have to win 4 of their remaining 6 to guarantee a spot.

Good news, everyone!

Highly talented rookie defenseman Brendan Smith is set to return to the line-up. Smith was recently named to the AHL All-Rookie Team for his play this year and he's been a quality contributor for the Griffins this season. Smith has missed some time with a lower body injury but his return could bring some much needed life to a Griffins team that has dropped 3 in a row.

Pearce carrying workload

You know who you can probably put some of the blame on for the Griffins struggles of late? Chris Osgood. He's been set to come back to the line-up twice now and the Wings have sent Joey MacDonald back to Grand Rapids, only to recall him immediately. The Griffins have relied heavily on Jordan Pearce in between the pipes in the absence of MacDonald and he's now close to setting a franchise record for consecutive starts. Pearce has been strong for the Griffins but the workload may be getting to him.

I, Filppula

Ilari Filppula has had quite the impact in his first season in North America as he leads the Griffins in points with 62. Ilari has 20 goals and 42 assists in 70 games played this season and is tied for 10th in the league scoring race. Let's see if Ilari can bump those numbers even higher in this last stretch of the season.