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There are just two weeks left on the calendar before the Hamilton Bulldogs 2010-2011 regular season comes to an end. And in those two weeks, the Dogs have eight games remaining to be played in order to secure a berth in the post-season. They currently occupy 3rd place in the AHL North Division standings, which is the final guaranteed playoff position within the Division. With the points that they should be able to get in these last upcoming games, locking up a playoff spot should be easy…right?

Not necessarily.

Here’s the reality of the situation: Out of the seven teams which make up the North Division, six of them still have a legitimate chance of advancing to the playoffs. Six teams fighting for three positions. I say three because even though the fourth spot is a playoff position as well, there is the threat of the infamous AHL crossover which happens within the Western Conference. This happens because there are 8 teams in the Western Division and only 7 in the North Division, where Hamilton plays. If the 5th place team in the West finishes with more points than the 4th place team in the North, that team from the West bumps out the team from the North and takes their place. This is why it is so crucial for the Bulldogs to finish the season no worse than 3rd in their division. With the current point standings, if they finish in 4th they will not qualify for the playoffs.

Let’s now take a look at the North Division and see what the Hamilton Bulldogs are up against.

As mentioned above, there are six franchises (including the Bulldogs) attempting to occupy three spots in the standings. All of these teams are separated by only 10 points in what has become the tightest playoff race in the American Hockey League in a very long time. It has almost been like a game of musical chairs except in this case it’s not children circling around the chairs, waiting for the music to stop….it’s hockey teams. The standings are constantly changing almost daily. If a team wins a game, they are in a playoff spot. If they lose, they are out. It’s mind-boggling just how close this race actually is.

The Lake Erie Monsters (affiliate of the Colorado Avalanche) are in 1st place with 73 games played; 40 wins; 25 losses; 3 overtime losses; 5 shootout losses; and 88 points.

The Manitoba Moose (affiliate of the Vancouver Canucks) are in 2nd place with 73 games played; 40 wins; 27 losses; 1 overtime loss; 5 shootout losses; and 86 points.

Your Hamilton Bulldogs (affiliate of the Montreal Canadiens) are in 3rd place with 72 games played; 37 wins; 26 losses; 2 overtime losses; 7 shootout losses; and 83 points.

Sitting in the unlucky 4th place where the crossover can occur are the Toronto Marlies (affiliate of the Toronto Maple Leafs) with 74 games played; 35 wins; 28 losses; 1 overtime loss; 10 shootout losses; and 81 points.

In 5th place are the Grand Rapids Griffins (affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings) with 74 games played; 35 wins; 29 losses; 2 overtime losses; 8 shootout losses; and 80 points.

The last team with a chance of still making the “show” are the Abbotsford Heat (affiliate of the Calgary Flames) who sit in 6th place with 71 games played; 34 wins; 27 losses; 4 overtime losses; 6 shootout losses; and 78 points.

Sitting on the outside, looking in from 7th and last place in the Division, are the Rochester Americans (affiliate of the Florida Panthers). Their 67 points distances themselves from the rest of the teams and it would be nothing short of a miracle were they to somehow qualify for the postseason.

It is interesting to note that the Bulldogs remaining games are ALL against their fellow division rivals in this points race. 4 games are vs Abbotsford; 3 are vs Manitoba; and 1 is vs Lake Erie. This last stretch is going to determine the final North Division standings. The winners will be advancing. Those who lose the games will be opening up their summer cottages and getting the golf clubs ready to use.

Let the games begin…