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On the road toward the Calder Cup playoffs

According to the website SportsClubStats.com, which calculates the chances for each American Hockey League team to qualify for the Calder Cup playoffs, the Chicago Wolves own a 100 percent chance to make the postseason.

With the Wolves’ magic number down to 8 points, Craig Berube’s team can take giant steps toward clinching an official playoff berth with this weekend’s games at Charlotte (5 p.m. Saturday, noon Sunday) that are being televised by CW50.

With Wolves playoff tickets going on sale to the public Friday morning, now’s a good time to examine how the AHL’s playoff system is structured. Similar to the National Hockey League, the AHL’s first two playoff rounds are conducted by division.

Unlike the NHL, however, the AHL doesn’t throw any wild cards into the process. It’s as simple as this: The top four teams in each of the four divisions when the regular season ends on April 15 will make the playoffs.

In each division, the first round of the Calder Cup playoffs features a best-of-5 series between the first- and fourth-place teams as well as the second- and third-place teams. The winners meet for a seven-game series that determines the division champion. Then comes a seven-game series against the Pacific Division champ to set up the Calder Cup final against the Eastern Conference titlist.

Entering this weekend’s games, the Central Division’s top four teams are Grand Rapids, Chicago, Milwaukee and Charlotte. The Wolves own a 7-3-1-1 record against Milwaukee this season and a 3-1-0-0 record against Charlotte. Chicago also boasts a 5-1-0-0 record versus Iowa, the current fifth-place team.

The Wolves won just two of their 10 regular-season games against Grand Rapids, but several of those came before the Wolves solidified their roster. When the teams played on Friday and Saturday last weekend, both games went to overtime before the Griffins came out on top.

“Playoff hockey, in my opinion,” Berube said after Saturday’s game that drew 12,014 fans to Allstate Arena. “Two good teams going at it. We just ended up on the short end of both games. I thought both games we had our chances in overtime and couldn’t capitalize.”

Depending on how things play out, the Wolves, who have just five home games remaining, could have the opportunity to clinch the Calder Cup playoff berth in front of the home fans next weekend.

Chicago hosts the defending champion Cleveland Monsters at 7 p.m. on Saturday, April 1. The first 5,000 fans receive a Wolves trading cards set courtesy of Vienna Beef. The Wolves then host Charlotte at 4 p.m. Sunday as the first 2,500 fans receive a Brett Sterling bobblehead presented by CW50.