The Afternoon Shift – March 31

"That-a-way!"/Photo by Mark Newman

“Go West, young men!” refers to not only the Griffins’ travel plans for this weekend, but also where their attention has been refocused in their quest for a playoff spot.

With their deficit to third place and the final guaranteed playoff spot in the North Division having ballooned to seven points since Tuesday due to Hamilton’s two-game sweep of Abbotsford, the Griffins must now adjust their sights and more realistically take aim at fourth place, a precarious position made vulnerable by the AHL’s crossover rule.

Thanks to the controversial rule – enacted due to horrible injustice of the West having eight teams to the North’s seven – the team that finishes fifth in the West will qualify for the Calder Cup Playoffs if it finishes with more points than the fourth-place team from the North. (Don’t even get us started on the fairness of 63% of the West’s teams potentially making the playoffs versus 43% of the North’s. How about this simple idea: Want to make the playoffs? Finish in the top four of your division. No tears should be shed for any fifth-place team barred from the dance, no matter its record. But we digress.)

Without the crossover rule, the Griffins, who are just a single point behind fourth-place Toronto, would be slugging it out with the Marlies for all the marbles. But because of it, both teams are currently on the outside looking in, with Chicago poised to sneak over from the West and steal the berth.

In fact, Grand Rapids’ rivals for this coveted spot number no less than seven. Heading into Chicago’s game at Houston tonight, the Wolves, Peoria and Oklahoma City are all tied for fourth in the West with 83 points, while seventh-place San Antonio sits one point back at 82. Factor in Toronto (81), Grand Rapids (80) and sixth-place Abbotsford (78) from the North, and the stage is set for a confusing and complicated – yet admittedly entertaining – donnybrook down the stretch.

Extrapolation of current winning percentages indicates that the Griffins might be able to both secure fourth place and fend off the crossover threat by going 5-1 over their final six games. But they really have no margin for error, given that there are still six games remaining on the AHL’s schedule pitting two of the other six teams, guaranteeing two points each time to one of their rival suitors.

For its part, Grand Rapids will have three more shots at Abbotsford, beginning with this weekend’s Friday-Saturday set in British Columbia. Can the Griffins do it? A recent 20-game stretch (Feb. 9-March 20) during which they were the AHL’s best team suggests they can. It won’t be easy, but nothing worth having ever is.

Today’s Griffins links:

AHL/opponent links:

Alumni news and notes:

Video – NHL alumni goals:

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