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Expansion Newfoundland team all but guaranteed of first-place North Division finish
The Newfoundland Growlers have clinched a playoff spot and are a mathematic sliver away from clinching home-ice advantage for two postseason rounds, should they get that far.
But while the Growlers know they are in the playoffs and are virtually assured of finishing in first place in the ECHL’s North Division, there is a very good chance they won’t know their opening-round opponent until April 7, the last day of the regular-season.
Newfoundland finished up a six-game road trip with a 3-2 shootout win over the Reading Royals on Saturday. That leaves the Growlers with a 41-20-6 record and 12 points ahead of the second-place Adirondack Thunder in the North Division.
The Thunder (34-24-8) could claim first place — but it would take Adirondack winning all of its six remaining games in regulation and Newfoundland losing the five games it has left, also in regulation.
That very unlikely scenario would put the Thunder in top spot, based on the first tiebreaker — regulation and overtime wins.
In other words, Adirondack has a far better shot at finishing second in the division, but even that is far from a certainty.
Only four points separate the second-place Thunder and fifth-place Brampton Beast, meaning the final standings within the division — and expansion Newfoundland’s first-ever playoff opponent — probably won’t be revealed before the last few games of the season.
The Growlers had dropped a 5-2 decision to Reading Friday, but came away with a win from Saturday’s rematch, when defenceman Garrett Johnston produced the deciding goal in the 12th round of the shootout.
Marcus Power and Brady Ferguson scored in regulation for Newfoundland, with Ferguson’s team-leading 27th goal midway through the second period creating the 2-2 tie that would eventually send the game into OT.
Matt Pohlkamp and Kevin Goumas replied for Reading.
Eamon McAdam made 42 saves, including three in overtime, for the Growlers before stopping 11 of 12 Royals attempts in the shootout.
Reading’s Jamie Phillips faced 36 shots.
On Sunday, the Growlers returned to St. John’s, where they will close out their regular-season home schedule against the Manchester Monarchs next Friday and Saturday. Then, its back on the road for a four-game season-ending trip.
Growlers leading scorer Zach O’Brien, said to be a little banged up, was out of the lineup for a fourth straight game Saturday. His place as the right-winger on the team’s top line with Marcus Power and Brady Ferguson was taken by Evan Neugold, who has played defence for Newfoundland all season. But Neugold, who had an assist in the win over Reading, is no stranger to the forward position. That’s where he played before a switch to the blueline while playing with Adirondack last season … Ferguson is on a five-game point scoring streak, with five goals and fours assists in that stretch. However, Growlers’ rookie forward Josh Kestner saw his eight-game scoring streak come to an end Saturday in Reading …