ECHL Eastern conference comes down to the wire

ORLANDO, FLA – One week. Seven days. The 2013-2014 ECHL regular season has come down to its final few days. Since last week at this time, all but one of the eight available places at the post season table in the Eastern conference have been filled. The team that will sit at the head of the table has also been identified. Other than that, there is still plenty to be decided as eight points separate the current second seed from the eighth.

ECHL Kelly Cup (Photo courtesy of ECHL)

ECHL Kelly Cup (Photo courtesy of ECHL)

Bring on the madness.

The one team that will have little to no suspense is the Reading Royals. The defending Kelly Cup champs have locked up yet another Atlantic division crown. At 45-21-2-1, the Royals’ 93 points are just one shy of the Alaska Aces and even with the Ontario Reign in the race for the Brabham Cup, the trophy that goes to the regular season point champion.

Reading has already completed its home schedule so the team’s final three games will be on the road. The trip begins on Wednesday in southwest Florida against the Florida Everblades who are fighting for the final playoff spot. A second game against the Everblades will be played on Friday before the Royals head up I-75 to I-4 and Orlando on Saturday.

What happens behind the Royals in the standings is anybody’s guess. Right now the South Carolina Stingrays hold the second spot by virtue of its win against South division foe Florida on Sunday. South Carolina (41-23-2-4, 88 points) is one point ahead of the Kalamazoo Wings and two points up on the Orlando Solar Bears. The Stingrays and Solar Bears are also in a battle for the South division crown with Orlando holding a game in hand.

South Carolina’s schedule is pretty simple. The Stingrays have two games left to play and they need to win both to take the division to stay in the top four. The first game is Tuesday night on the road at Greenville, a team that has a playoff spot locked in but wants to improve its seeding. The second and final contest is at home on Friday when the Elmira Jackals visit the North Charleston Coliseum.

The Kalamazoo Wings (40-22-2-5, 87 points) are hot on the heels of the Stingrays and trying to stay ahead of Orlando. Like South Carolina, Kalamazoo is in a fight for a division title as the Wings lead the North division by a slim two points over Cincinnati.

Kalamazoo has three games remaining on its schedule. Arguably the biggest one comes on Wednesday when the Wings visit the Cyclones with the division on the line. Kalamazoo finishes the regular season with games Friday in Toledo and Saturday at home against Evansville.

A tough northern road trip put Orlando (41-24-2-2, 86 points) in fourth place in the conference. The Solar Bears hold a one point lead over the Cyclones for the final spot that will bring with it home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. The division crown is also within reach.

Orlando finished its road schedule last weekend, leaving three home games to go. Two of the games are against division rival Greenville which still has an outside shot to win the South. Those games are Thursday and Sunday. In between on Saturday, Reading comes to the Amway Center with former Solar Bears captain Ryan Cruthers on its roster.

The Cincinnati Cyclones (39-22-3-4, 85 points) have plenty to play for in the final week. Home ice is within reach as the Cyclones are just one point behind Orlando and third place is only two points away. Cincinnati can also pull even with Kalamazoo in the North division with a win on Wednesday.

After hosting the Wings, the Cyclones conclude the regular season with three games in three days over the weekend. They host Wheeling for a pair of games on Friday and Saturday before closing the regular season on the road in Toledo on Sunday.

The sixth place Greenville Road Warriors (39-24-2-3, 83 points) can also improve on its seeding with four games left to play. If they win out, the Road Warriors have a shot at home ice as well as the South division title should both South Carolina and Orlando falter.

Greenville has much of its fate in its own hands. The Road Warriors four contests are all division games. They face South Carolina and Florida once and take on the Solar Bears twice with all of the games against the Florida teams on the road.

Seventh place is the last position that has a team locked into a playoff spot sitting in it. Presently it belongs to the red hot Wheeling Nailers (38-26-1-5, 82 points) who have won eight of their last ten games. With only two games remaining, the Nailers can get to 86 points which right now would be tied for fourth but because of tie breakers would fall short of getting home ice.

The two contests the Nailers will play to close out the season are both on the road in Cincinnati. With both teams motivated to win, the games should be good.

Eighth place is where most of the drama will be over the next seven days. The Fort Wayne Komets (34-24-7-5, 80 points) are hanging on to the spot by four points over the Florida Everblades (34-27-3-5, 76 points). The Komets have a potential to finish as high as sixth but just getting into the post season is more important. For the Everblades, who have never missed the playoffs in franchise history, the battle is an uphill one but they do have a game in hand on the Komets.

Fort Wayne has just two games left, both of them at home. On Friday the Komets will take on in-state rival Evansville before hosting Toledo on Sunday. Florida, which needs to win all three of its games to have a shot, host top seeded Reading on Wednesday and Friday before taking on Greenville at the Germain Arena in Estero on Saturday.

With so much on the line, this final week should be entertaining.

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