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Published: Wednesday, 3/24/2010

Walleye hope playoffs in future

BY MARK MONROE
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

With six games left in the regular season, the playoff scenario for the Toledo Walleye is as clear as mud.

Yet the Walleye control their own destiny. If they win five of six, they're into the ECHL postseason.

The Walleye could clinch a berth with three straight wins this weekend combined with three losses by Gwinnett.

But the worst-case scenario would see Toledo stumble badly down the stretch and miss the playoffs entirely.

"If we take care of business, we don't have to rely on any help," Toledo coach Nick Vitucci said. "We have it in our own hands."

But three of the six games are against Kalamazoo (38-19-8), currently the second seed. Toledo is 5-5-0 against the K-Wings this season.

Four of the six games also are on the road. Toledo is 13-14-5 away from home. But the Walleye also have two more games against last-place Johnstown (16-39-11).

If the season ended today, the Walleye (33-27-6) would qualify as the seventh seed out of eight and would face Kalamazoo.

Toledo won two of three games last weekend to capture four of six points.

Four teams in the ECHL American Conference have clinched one of eight playoff spots. South Carolina, Kalamazoo, Charlotte, and Cincinnati are in, while Elmira and Florida are in good position to qualify.

Toledo has 72 points and is battling with Reading (71 points), Wheeling (68), Gwinnett (67), and Trenton (65) for one of the final two seeds.

The Walleye and Trenton have six games left, while Reading and Gwinnett have seven contests remaining. Wheeling has just four games left.

Toledo can finish with a maximum of 84 points. Reading has a game in hand on the Walleye and the Royals' max would be 85 followed by Gwinnett (81), Trenton (77), and Wheeling (76).

Toledo travels to Johnstown, which has the fewest points in the league (43), on Friday. The Walleye then host Wheeling at 7 p.m. on Saturday and they play Kalamazoo at 4 p.m. on Sunday at Lucas County Arena in the regular-season home finale.

"It will be a tough battle," Vitucci said. "Kalamazoo is rolling and they're making a push. They are looking for a higher seed. They will be strong. Wheeling is battling for their lives. Johnstown is in last place but they are playing loose and that is dangerous."

Toledo closes out the season with three straight road contests.

"If we can continue what we did last weekend over the next two weekends we will be in good shape," Vitucci said.

The Walleye could face one of six teams in the first round.

Depending on the final seeding Toledo could play South Carolina, Kalamazoo, Elmira, Florida, Cincinnati, or Charlotte.

Walleye officials peg the team's chances of making the playoffs at 80 to 90 percent.

If Toledo wins three games, it eliminates both Wheeling and Trenton. If the Walleye win five, they eliminate Gwinnett.

"It's nice to be in this position in our first year," Vitucci said. "This is the fun time of the year."

FISH TALE: Toledo rookie goalie Jordan Pearce earned the ECHL goaltender of the week honors yesterday.

Pearce went 2-0-0 with a goals against average of 1.51 with two wins over Cincinnati last weekend. Pearce also had a save percentage of .954.

Pearce, who played at Notre Dame last season, made 63 saves in the two games including a 33-save effort to help Toledo beat the Cyclones 3-2 on Saturday.

The 23-year-old is 14-13-2 with two shutouts and a 3.55 GAA this season.

Contact Mark Monroe at:

mmonroe@theblade.com

or 419-724-6354.


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