Tales from the Trough: ‘Hogs win two of three on Texas road trip, secure No. 3 seed in playoffs

Rockford's Matt Keith (22) chases the puck into the offensive zone with Houston's Cody Almond (12) and Nathan Smith (8) in pursuit. The 'Hogs defeated the Aeros 3-1 Tuesday, April 6. Photo by Todd Reicher

By Todd Reicher
Sports Columnist

Last week, the Rockford IceHogs secured a spot in the 2010 Calder Cup playoffs. Out of the four available playoff spots, Rockford had a chance to secure the third seed if they could win two of three Texas road games, or if the Milwaukee Admirals would lose one or two games.

The first of the three games in Texas took place Tuesday, April 6, as the ’Hogs took on the seventh-place Houston Aeros.

Less than 3 minutes into the first, Mark Cullen scored on a pass from Matt Keith, who was stationed behind the net and found Cullen streaking toward the net for the easy one-timer.

With just under 6 minutes remaining in the first, while short-handed, Bracken Kearns played a shot toward the net. Jack Skille grabbed the rebound let out by Aeros goalie Darcy Kuemper, and scored as he fell over Kuemper.

Houston managed to get on the board with under a minute remaining in the second. Jean-Michel Daoust was fed a pass about 15 feet out from the center of the goal, made a great fake move to cause Corey Crawford to go down early, and Daoust slipped it past him.

Halfway through the third, Cullen tallied his second goal of the night. Keith grabbed possession of the puck in the defensive zone, and raced it down to the Aeros’ zone. Keith pushed back a drop pass for Cullen, who blasted a shot over the stick side of Kuemper, giving the ’Hogs a 3-1 lead, which would wind up being the final score.

Friday’s game (April 9) against the Texas Stars was a potential preview of a first-round playoff game. The Stars have had Rockford’s number all year, going 6-2-0 against the ’Hogs this season. Both teams had quite a bit at stake prior to the drop of the puck. If Rockford won, a third-place seed in the Calder Cup playoffs would be secured, and if the Stars won, they had the opportunity to close in on a first-place seed, currently held by the Chicago Wolves.

Rockford started out the game with a bang, as Skille tallied his 23rd goal of the year just 1:31 into the game. Danny Richmond was credited with an assist.

With strong playoff implications for both teams looming, one knew this was going to be a physical game. In the first period alone, there were a total of seven penalties, including two fights, totaling 26 minutes.

The second period showed more goals for both teams, and the return of the ’Hogs’ power play. A little more than halfway through the period, red-hot Cullen notched his 20th goal of the season while on the power play, giving the ’Hogs a 2-0 edge.

Texas answered soon enough, under 3 minutes later and on the power play, when Warren sounded the horn with his 19th goal of the season.

Rockford was awarded another power play later in the period, and a slumping Kyle Greentree made good on a shot, tallying his team-leading 25th goal of the season.

The scoring line wasn’t done yet, as Cullen notched another goal later in the third, increasing the lead to 4-1 with under 3 minutes left in the game.

Cullen received his third point of the game just a minute-and-a-half later when he assisted winger Keith, who beat Matt Climie with 51 seconds remaining in the game. Climie, who was recently called up by the Dallas Stars (Texas’ NHL affiliate), faced the Chicago Blackhawks April 6 and gave up five goals that night as well.

Saturday’s game (April 10) against San Antonio had no playoff implications for either team. The Rampage had been eliminated from playoff contention more than a week ago, and the ’Hogs had already locked up the third spot. This gave Head Coach Bill Peters a chance to play around with some of his lines and try some of the recent collegiate players who have been called up after their seasons had ended.

Two of these newer players, right winger Brandon Bollig and center David Gilbert, assisted on the first goal of the game. Richard Petiot tallied his eighth of the season, set up by both Bollig and Gilbert.

Rockford’s lead would only last 11 seconds, as the Rampage won the next face-off and put one by goalie Hannu Toivoinen.

Less than 4 minutes later, Rampage tough guy Francis Lessard notched his second goal of the season.

Similar to San Antonio’s first goal, Rockford responded 50 seconds later, as Bollig tallied his first professional goal, and his first multi-point game of his very young AHL career. Captain Jake Dowell and newcomer Ryan Stanton were credited with assists on the goal.

The Rampage would tally the next two goals, both coming on the power play, securing the win for the Rampage, and closing Rockford’s final regular-season game with a loss.

Rockford begins the Calder Cup playoffs against the Texas Stars, in Texas, at 7:30 p.m., Friday April 16. The second game of the best-of-seven series takes place the following night at 7 p.m. The teams return back to Rockford Wednesday, April 21, and Friday, April 23, with both starting times at 7:05 p.m. If a fifth game is necessary, it will take place in Rockford at 7:05 p.m., Saturday, April 24. The remaining two games, if needed, would take place in Texas at 7:30 p.m., April 26-27. Playoff tickets are still available at the MetroCentre box office, or by calling (815) 968-5600.

From the April 14-20, 2010 issue

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