The playoff push

The Indy Fuel are in the midst of a four-team playoff push for two spots in the ECHL’s North Division.

So, it’s a good time to break down the playoff race in the ECHL’s North Division.

First – a quick primer. The ECHL playoff format – for this year – is pretty simple. The top 4 teams in each division are in, and they will play within the division for the first two rounds (1 vs 4, 2 vs 3 in each division, with the winners playing for the division final, and then the division winners playing in the conference finals, and the conference winners meeting for the Kelly Cup). Next year, when the ECHL reverts to a six-division format, the Fuel will move to the Western Conference and the playoff format will go back to what it had been in the NHL from 1994-2013, where the top eight teams in each conference are in the playoffs, with the division winners getting the top three seeds.

Toledo (92 points, 10 games remaining) and Fort Wayne (90 points, 9 games remaining) are in the top two spots in the division and have already clinched playoff spots. A quick look at who’s left:

3rd: Kalamazoo Wings

  • Record: 31-27-5, 67 points.
  • ROW: 30
  • Goal differential: -10 (196/206)
  • Division record: 22-20-4
  • Games remaining: 9
    • Home opponents: Toledo (2); Wheeling, Fort Wayne
    • Road opponents: Colorado (3), Indy, Toledo
  • Opponents’ avg. points percentage: .655
  • Analysis: The K-Wings are in pretty good shape, with a six-point lead on the two fifth-place teams and the first tiebreaker with 30 regulation/overtime wins. Kalamazoo does have a pretty difficult remaining schedule – 3 games with Toledo, 1 with Fort Wayne and 3 with Colorado, all of which are in either first or second in their division. The K-Wings also have the fewest remaining games (along with the Fuel) of the contenders. The K-Wings have played the top teams well – they’re 4-5-1 against Toledo and 6-7-1 against Fort Wayne.  The two head-to-head meetings with Wheeling and Indy are opportunities for the challengers to make up ground, and chances for the K-Wings to wrap up a playoff spot. Kalamazoo is 8-5-0 in its last 13 games, and that has allowed it to ever-so-slightly pull away from the pack.

4th: Wheeling Nailers

  • Record: 30-29-2, 62 points
  • ROW: 26
  • Goal differential: -3 (179/182)
  • Division record: 10-12-1
  • Games remaining: 11
    • Home opponents: Toledo, Fort Wayne, Reading, Cincinnati, Evansville, Elmira
    • Road opponents: Elmira (2), Kalamazoo, Reading, Brampton
  • Opponents’ avg. points percentage: .561
  • Analysis: The Nailers have the most games remaining of the contenders, but the Nailers’ biggest opportunity to make a move comes in the next five days – Wheeling hosts Toledo, Fort Wayne, Reading and Cincinnati between Wednesday and Sunday of this week, and then will have just two of its last seven games at home. Four of its games remaining are against division contenders (Toledo, Fort Wayne, Reading twice). and five are against teams likely to miss the playoffs (Elmira three times, Evansville, Brampton), giving the Nailers the lightest remaining schedule. Head-to-head games with Cincinnati and Kalamazoo will be key. Wheeling has been pretty good against Elmira this season (7-3-0), and is 5-5 against the Reading team it will face twice. Wheeling and Cincinnati currently have the same number of ROW, but a nearly-even goal differential could give the Nailers a leg up in the tiebreakers. Wheeling has played .500 hockey of late – 3-3-1 in the last seven.

5th: Cincinnati Cyclones

  • Record: 27-28-7, 61 points.
  • ROW: 26
  • Goal differential: -18 (165/183)
  • Division record: 22-12-4
  • Games remaining: 10
    • Home opponents (6): Evansville (2), South Carolina, Fort Wayne, Toledo, Indy
    • Road opponents (4): Fort Wayne (2), Toledo, Wheeling
  • Opponents’ avg. points percentage: .585
  • Analysis: The Cyclones have been struggling of late, having gone 1-6-2 in its last nine, and they’ve got a mixed bag with the remaining schedule. Having two home games against Evansville will help, but six of the 10 remaining games are against division contenders, starting with Saturday’s game against South Carolina, owners of a 21-game winning streak. The Cyclones have two head-to-head meetings with teams they’re battling for the playoffs – the Fuel on April 3 in Cincinnati, and Wheeling on Sunday. The next seven days will likely go a long way in determining the Cyclones’ future – they play five games in those days, four at home. Cincy is 1-1-2 against the Fort Wayne team it will play three times, 2-2-1 against Toledo.

6th: Indy Fuel

  • Record: 26-28-9, 61 points
  • ROW: 22
  • Goal differential: -25 (173/198)
  • Division record: 17-18-6
  • Games remaining:9
    • Home opponents (6): Reading, South Carolina, Toledo, Fort Wayne, Elmira, Kalamazoo
    • Road opponents (3): Reading (2), Cincinnati
  • Opponents’ avg. points percentage: .643
  • Analysis: The Fuel have a lot of home games remaining, and that will hopefully bode well for the team. They have the second-toughest schedule of the four contenders – Kalamazoo’s is tougher. It’s a strong schedule, with only one game (home vs. Elmira) against a team that’s likely out of contention for a playoff spot – and the Jackals are actually only six points out of a spot in the East. Three games are against Reading, a team that has beaten the Fuel five times, but all five have been one-goal games. Indy has fared better against Toledo and Fort Wayne, winning three of the last four meetings with those two teams. The two head-to-head games, April 3 at Cincinnati and the home finale April 8 against Kalamazoo, will be keys. The Fuel will also likely have to be a full point clear of the field, as all three other teams will hold the ROW tiebreaker. It’s an exciting time, especially given the Fuel have been one of the hottest teams in the ECHL since mid-January, going 20-7-2 in that stretch.

In the other divisions

East: Florida (93) and Reading (88) have clinched spots. South Carolina (85) all but has clinched, and those three will likely be the top three teams. Orlando (75) is in fourth, with a five-point lead and two games in hand over fifth-place Greenville, and six points over Elmira.

Central: Defending CHL champion Allen has clinched the division made up of the seven teams that moved over from that league with 90 points. Rapid City (71), Tulsa (70), Quad City (69) and Wichita (68) are in a battle for spots 2-5, with three of the four making the postseason.

Pacific: Idaho (91) has an eight-point lead on Colorado (83) with both teams having eight games to play. Ontario also looks safe with 81 points and is duking it out with Colorado for home-ice in what looks like their first-round series. Utah (72) has a three-point lead over fifth-place Alaska (69), but the Aces have a game in hand.

If the playoffs started today (and they don’t), it would be:

East: (1) Florida vs. (4) Orlando; (2) Reading vs. (3) South Carolina
North: (1) Toledo vs. (4) Wheeling); (2) Fort Wayne vs. (3) Kalamazoo
Central: (1) Allen vs. (4) Quad City; (2) Rapid City vs. (3) Tulsa
Pacific: (1) Idaho vs. (4) Utah; (2) Colorado vs. (3) Ontario

And for note: The ECHL’s tiebreakers. Listed below is for 2 teams, but if there are 3+ teams tied, the following is used until enough teams are eliminated to make the remaining two.

  1. Regulation/Overtime wins
  2. Goal differential
  3. Points in head-to-head games (if the two haven’t played the same number of home games, the first home game for the team that played more is excluded)
  4. Points percentage within the division (if in the same division)
  5. Points percentage within the conference
  6. Goals scored
  7. Goals against
  8. Coin flip