The Rockford IceHogs have battled their way into a spot in the AHL’s postseason party…for now.
With nine games left heading into action Monday, the Hogs are a point ahead of Iowa for the final playoff spot in the Central Division. Rockford overtook the Wild with two regulation wins in three games this week, including a 5-2 win in DesMoines last Monday.
This season is far from over. Just two of Rockford’s final nine games is at the BMO Harris Bank Center. Iowa and Milwaukee, who beat the IceHogs in Rockford Friday night, are still within striking distance. The Admirals sit just three points back of Rockford, who like Iowa and Milwaukee have played 67 games this season.
The Hogs draw a tough assignment to start this week’s action. Rockford is in Winnipeg for two games with the division-leading Moose on Monday and Wednesday.
Manitoba is not the same red-hot squad of earlier this season and they have been much better on the road than in its own building. However, the Moose have won both contests with Rockford this season. Manitoba is second in the AHL in scoring with 3.39 goals per contest. They have a lethal power play (21.6 efficiency) and are fast and physical on the ice.
The Moose have five 40-plus point scorers on the active roster. By contrast, Rockford’s top point producer, Anthony Louis, has 38 points on the season. The Hogs have been grinding out a lot of wins lately, though Rockford is putting up an average of 3.03 goals a game.
I figure that the IceHogs are going to have to win six of these last nine games to make the postseason. A split up north is vital to making that happen. Following Wednesday’s tilt with the Moose, Rockford hosts San Jose on Saturday night.
Viktor S Scores A Viktor-E
It is very apparent that the IceHogs will set a franchise record for courtesy this season. This weekend, a Rockford skater earned a fighting major for just the tenth time this season. The Hogs will obliterate the previous low of 39.
That tenth scrap came in the third period of a tight game with the Chicago Wolves, when Viktor Svedberg got tired of the antics of Wolves forward Keegan Kolesar. What made this fight memorable is the fact that for the first time this season, a Rockford skater scored anything resembling a clear win over an opponent.
In his second dropping of the gloves this month, Svedberg landed several blows and bloodied the nose of his adversary. The 6’9” defenseman spent the next five minutes icing his right hand, so hopefully he’s none the worse for wear.
Svedberg has been a healthy and effective part of the lineup in 2017-18. In 64 games this season, he has set career highs in goals (six) and points (21). His skater rating of plus-16 is tied for the team lead.
The IceHogs saw the arrival of forward Victor Ejdsell this past week, as well as his departure. Ejdsell played two games with Rockford before be recalled by the Hawks. The 6’5″ Swede impressed me with his skating and positioning in his appearances at the BMO this weekend. He had an assist against Milwaukee Friday.
Rockford also signed D Joni Tuulola to a PTO on Friday. Tuulola had been playing in his native Finland this season.
Rockford won two of three games this week, good enough to move into fourth place in the Central Division. The Hogs are 34-25-4-4 in 2017-18.
Monday, March 19-Rockford 5, Iowa 2
The Hogs posted a key road win over the Wild, paced by a pair of goals by Chris DiDomenico.
Rockford got on the board in the sixth minute when Graham Knott got a piece of a Luc Snuggerud shot on its way to the net. At the 12:23 mark, Luke Johnson made it a 2-0 game after taking a pass from Cody Franson and skaking to the right dot.
Iowa pulled back to 2-1 on a Mitch McLain goal, but DiDomenico won control of a loose puck in the Rockford zone and brought it all the way back into Wild territory. Shooting from the left circle, the puck glanced off the crossbar, off defenseman Alex Grant and into the cage for a 3-1 Hogs lead 17:19 into the first period.
DiDomenico made it a 4-1 Rockford advantage with a power play strike 3:18 into the second period. The goal was set up by Adam Clendening, who found DiDomenico at the top of the right circle for the slap shot.
Kyle Rau scored midway through the second period to close the gap to 4-2, but that was as close as things got in DesMoine on this night. Viktor Svedberg banked a clearing attempt off the glass and into an empty net in the closing minutes to seal the win.
No lines tonight; Robin Norell skated as a forward. The Hogs were two of five on the power play. Jeff Glass stopped 31 of 33 shots to pick up his 13th win of the season. DiDomenico and Franson (two assists) were named the first and third stars of the game.
Friday, March 23-Milwaukee 5, Rockford 2
Things got away from the IceHogs in the final period. The desperate Admirals dropped four goals on Rockford to end an eight-game Hogs points streak.
Tyler Sikura got a shot past the pads of Anders Lindback 5:01 into the game. The puck slowly slid toward the goal line until Henrik Samuelsson gave it a last push to the net to give the IceHogs the lead.
The score would remain 1-0 through the majority of the first two periods. Milwaukee tied the game with 25 seconds left in the middle frame on an Anthony Richard goal.
The third period was a wild affair that did not end well for Rockford. Former Hog Mark McNeill gave the Ads a 2-1 lead after Adam Clendening whiffed on a pass attempt from deep in his own zone. Midway through the third, Lance Bouma slipped a shot between Lindback and the left post to tie the game. From there, it was all Milwaukee.
Bobby Butler hit on the game-winner with a backdoor goal 10:09 into the final period. McNeill and Richard both added empty net scores in the last minute to finish off the Hogs.
Lines (starters in italics)
Tanner Kero (A)-Graham Knott-Kyle Maksimovich
Lance Bouma-Chris DiDomenico-Anthony Louis
Henrik Samuelsson-Tyler Sikura-Victor Ejdsell
Alex Wideman-Luke Johnson (A)-Matheson Iacopelli
Adam Clendening (A)-Carl Dahlstrom
Cody Franson-Viktor Svedberg
Darren Raddysh-Robin Norell
Power Play (0-1)
Penalty Kill (Ads were 1-4, though that goal came with the Hogs net empty.)
Saturday, March 24-Rockford 5, Chicago 3
The IceHogs rallied from a 2-0 first-period deficit to post the win over the Wolves.
Chicago got goals from Brandon Pirri and Teemu Pulkkinen in the first 20 minutes to put the Hogs in a hole. Rockford came out digging in the second period.
In the opening minute of the middle frame, William Pelletier had a shot deflect off of Wolves defenseman Griffin Reinhardt. The puck was gathered in by Lance Bouma at the left circle. His shot got the best of Chicago goalie Max Legace and made it a 2-1 game 49 seconds into the second.
Rockford tied the game at the 8:37 mark when Matheson Iacopelli zipped a wrist shot from the left point that caught the far side corner past Legace. A few minutes later, the Hogs took the lead.
Tyler Sikura went behind the Chicago net to chase down Luc Snuggerud’s shot attempt. Finding Henrik Samuelsson open at the right dot, Sikura’s pass was rifled into the back of the Wolves net at the 15:28 mark.
Less than a minute later, Darren Raddysh broke up a entry pass by Wade Megan and got the puck to Chris DiDomenico skating the other way. DiDomenico hit Bouma coming into the Wolves zone and Bouma handled the rest, twining his attempt past Legace for a 4-2 Rockford advantage at 16:17 of the second period.
Pulkkinen answered for Chicago late in the second to cut the Hogs advantage to 4-3. However, that was it for the Wolves offense. Collin Delia made several outstanding saves on point blank Wolves attempts late in the second to preserve the one-goal lead. Rockford added an empty-netter from DiDomenico with 1:50 remaining to put a ribbon on a fine comeback effort.
Bouma and DiDomenico were the game’s first two stars. Delia wound up with the victory, with 33 saves on the evening.
Lines (Starters in italics)
William Pelletier-Tanner Kero-Luke Johnson
Lance Bouma-Chris DiDomenico-Anthony Louis
Henrik Samuelsson-Victor Ejdsell-Tyler Sikura
Matheson Iacopelli-Graham Knott-Nathan Noel
Cody Franson (A)-Viktor Svedberg (A)
Adam Clendening-Carl Dahlstrom
Darren Raddysh-Luc Snuggerud
Power Play (1-4)
Penalty Kill (Chicago was 1-4)
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