Tales from the Trough: IceHogs gain some ground, finish week 2-1

Recently acquired center Ryan Johnson (11) fights Chicago's Mike Siklenka (5) for the puck during Wednesday's game against the Chicago Wolves. Johnson played one game in Rockford before he was called up to the Chicago Blackhawks, and was a -1 with one shot on goal. Photo by Todd Reicher

By Todd Reicher
Sports Columnist

After a short vacation, Tales from the Trough has returned, and so has the winning ways for the ’Hogs. Up until this past Wednesday, Dec. 15, the ’Hogs have gained points in their last five games.

Wednesday’s showdown was against the division rival Chicago Wolves, who looked to end Rockford’s current streak.

It took until late in the first, but Chicago would tally the first goal. Nigel Dawes, who has been a thorn in Rockford’s side this year, scored off a hot shot that hit the far top crossbar and banked in behind ’Hogs goalie Alec Richards. The power play goal put Chicago ahead 1-0.

Rockford would take advantage of Chicago’s league-worst penalty kill 2 minutes later. Recently recalled from the ECHL affiliate Toledo Walleye, Peter LeBlanc scored his third of the year, beating Peter Manino on a great pass from Kyle Beach.

Scoring would stay at a stalemate until midway through the second. Jeff Taffe scored his 11th of the season, bringing Rockford to the head of the pack, 2-1.

Chicago would answer quickly with a goal from Michael Davies. Coming into the zone one-on-one, Davies skated sideways toward the net, looking to the blue line to pass. With no Chicago player trailing the rush, Davies quickly flipped a hard wrister and beat Richards with a shot off the crossbar, very similar to Dawes’ shot in the first.

An interesting stat: Rockford is 0-4-0-2 this season when tied after two periods this season. Make that 0-5-0-2 now. Chicago took the lead 2 minutes into the third off a good pass from Mark Matheson, and less than 2 minutes later, added to their total with a tough goal by Arturs Kulda.

Richards was pulled in favor of Hannu Toivonen, who managed to stop all nine shots he faced, but the ’Hogs were unable to muster any offense, and the Wolves skated away with a 4-2 win.

Both teams faced off once again Friday night, Dec. 17. This time, the ’Hogs would get the lead and hold on to it.

LeBlanc would get yet another goal for the ’Hogs when Rockford opened up the scoring 7 minutes into the game. The special teams took advantage of the Wolves’ struggle penalty kill and rolled out to a 1-0 lead.

Similar to the previous game against the Wolves, Taffe would score after LeBlanc, doubling the lead to 2-0. The goal once again came on the power play, and continued five-game point streaks for both LeBlanc and Taffe.

Midway through the second, Davies would close the gap to 2-1, which is how the second period would end. In a high-shooting game, the Wolves had a slight edge over the ’Hogs after two, 28-27.

The shooting would come to a screeching halt for Rockford in the third, as the ’Hogs amassed only four shots on goal. The good news was that one of those four shots reached the back of the net.

With a little more than 5 minutes left to play in regulation, Rob Klinkhammer extended the lead to 3-1. Rookie Ben Smith made a sweet pass to find Klinkhammer on the other side of the ice, and Klink buried the shot to put Rockford up 3-1.

As the game was winding down, veteran Spencer Machacek beat Richards to close the gap to 3-2. With 40 seconds remaining, the ’Hogs held off the six-on-five play of the Wolves and left the ice with a much-needed 3-2 victory.

One key stat in these two games against Chicago was that Rockford held the AHL’s best power play team in the Chicago Wolves to 1-6 in two games. Oddly enough, the Wolves have the distinction of possessing the best power play in the league and the worst penalty kill.

With the sixth game in a row at home, Rockford hosted the Lake Erie Monsters Saturday, Dec. 18. The Monsters beat the ’Hogs 4-2 in late November at the MetroCentre, so the ’Hogs were looking to even the yearly series at one game apiece.

In their last matchup, the Monsters scored the first three goals of the game, with two in the first period, and the ’Hogs were never able to catch up.

This game would prove to be different in two ways: one, there were no goals scored in the first period (or the second, for that matter), and two, the ’Hogs would win the game, and in valiant fashion.

Two scoreless periods with both goalies, Toivonen for the ’Hogs and John Grahame for the Monsters, both stopping 20-plus shots in the first 40 minutes.

That shutout wouldn’t last much longer. Two minutes into the third, the scoreless tie was broken by Lake Erie’s Curtis Fraser.

Both teams were playing rough through most of the game, and the Monsters seemed to be playing a little chippy compared to the ’Hogs. The refs saw most of this (except whenToivonen was tripped by a Monsters player on a transition), and the ‘Hogs had the advantage on the power play opportunities, late in the game four-on-five. With time winding down, the refs called one more penalty on the Monsters. Cameron Gaunce was flagged for hooking with less than 90 seconds left in the game.

Unsuccessful on their first five power play opportunities of the night, things looked bleak for the ’Hogs. That is, until Jeremy Morin scored the game-tying goal with only 14 seconds remaining. The crowd erupted as the ’Hogs sent the game to overtime.

If you recall my stat from earlier, the ’Hogs were 0-5-0-2 when tied after the second period. Either the ’Hogs would add another loss to that stat, or they would start a new trend and win after being tied after two.

It only took 53 seconds for us to get our answer. A new trend would start. Scoring yet another goal this week, LeBlanc tallied the game-winner, breaking the streak, and sending ’Hogs fans home happy with a 2-1 overtime win.

Rockford is off until Sunday, Dec. 26, when the ’Hogs host the Milwaukee Admirals at the Rockford MetroCentre, with game time at 7:05 p.m. The ’Hogs then head up to Milwaukee to face the Admirals Tuesday, Dec. 28, for a 7 p.m. start time.

From the Dec. 22-28, 2010 issue

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