First, the Wolves. They sit atop the West Division, and if the playoffs started today, would play the Milwaukee Admirals, the team they swept in the first round last year. Houston is right behind Milwaukee with games in hand though, so that match-up could easily change. Rockford and San Antonio are second and third. Playoff rules from theahl.com:
In each division, the fourth-place team will play the first-place team in the division semifinals, while the second-place team plays the third-place team. ...
Division semifinal winners face off in the division finals. The winner of the East Division final plays the winner of the Atlantic Division final in the Eastern Conference final, while the winner of the North Division final plays the winner of the West Division final in the Western Conference final. Conference final winners meet in the Calder Cup Finals.
All series are in a best-of-seven format. ... Where possible, teams located within 300 highway miles of each other play a 2-2-1-1-1 format, and teams located more than 300 highway miles apart play a 2-3-2 format.
The AHL has something called a Clear Day Roster, which lists the players they intend to use from then on, barring injury. Two Thrashers prospects who were not put on the list were Chad Painchaud and Guillaume Desbiens, who are coincidentally both now down with the Gladiators.
Other Thrashers prospects who could join the Wolves if they make a long run are Riley Holzapfel, a center for the WHL Moose Jaw Warriors, who is already signed to a Thrashers contract, and defenseman Arturs Kulda, now playing for the OHL Peterborough Petes. Possibly also center Rylan Kaip, a center for the Univ. of North Dakota Fighting Sioux. These players would likely just practice, playing only if there were injuries. Last year, Bryan Little got into two Wolves playoffs games once his shoulder healed up.
The Wolves season ends Apr. 13, a week later than the NHL and ECHL.
The ECHL Gwinnett Gladiators sit second in the South Division behind the Texas Wildcatters. An insane eight out of the nine teams in the division make the postseason. So right now the Gladiators would play 7th seed Augusta Lynx, who they just swept in three straight regular season games. Getting past Texas will be the challenge as they are an exceptionally good team. They don't have a lot of big names, but they play with a lot of vigor and seem to be, dare I say it, well-coached. When they were in town a couple weekends ago, I was struck by how energetic they were just in the back hallways before warm-ups. They are well-conditioned, so a long series definitely favors them.
There's an important date to keep in mind: Apr. 2, 2008 at 5 p.m. is the ECHL deadline for amateur players to be eligible for the Kelly Cup playoffs. This means college players turning pro must be signed by then. College playoffs begin this weekend, so that's only three weekends worth of teams eliminated before the deadline. The North Dakota and Colorado College guys are never going to make it. Shucks. Players who have been pro all year need to have played 5 games with the team to qualify for the playoffs. Painchaud and Desbiens have played 6 and 7 games respectively, so they're in.
The Houston Aeros are a team to keep an eye on. They are the AHL affiliate of Texas, so if they're eliminated, they will send players down to Texas like goaltender Anton Khudobin, and that's bad news for the Gladiators. But they could also send a player back to the Gladiators in defenseman Jon Awe. They aren't required to, but it's generally done. Now, if there's shenanigans going on, Texas could try to convince Houston not to send him back because it would help Texas's opposition. But given that Texas is dismantling next year, I'm not sure what kind of sway they would have. Houston may be more likely to make nice with an ECHL team that's sticking around, affiliate or not. If Houston, as the fifth-place West Division team has more points than the fourth-place North Division team, they make the playoffs and enter the North bracket.
Derek Nesbitt's Rockford IceHogs are in the playoffs, and Jimmy Jackson's Peoria Rivermen are not out of the playoff picture.