By Todd Reicher
Consistency has certainly been a problem for Rockford this season. After starting off the month of February going 1-5-1-0, Rockford turned things around this week going a perfect 3-0-0-0, including Rockford’s second shutout of the season against the rival Chicago Wolves on their final meeting of the season.
Rockford’s stretch of three games in three days started out Friday, Feb. 24, at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont.
Bill Sweatt scored the only first-period goal, tallying his 12th of the season 14:34 into the first period. After throwing a few shots at the net in close quarters, the puck rolled behind the net. Sweatt picked it back up and around, rolled around the opposite side of the net, and snaked it past Carter Hutton.
Joe Lavin notched his third of the year early in the second to tie things up. The goal, scored only seconds after a Rockford power play expired, was set up beautifully by Brandon Svendsen, who carried the puck behind the net and found Lavin open on the left face-off dot. Lavin shot the puck far side corner, and beat Eddie Lack. Forward Byron Froese also factored in on the goal.
Rockford took their first lead of the game under 4 minutes later, courtesy of recent trade acquisition Matt Fornataro, who was received in a trade from the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for Brandon Segal. Svendsen and Froese both received their second points of the night assisting on the go-ahead goal.
The lead was held for more than 20 minutes until Tim Miller tied it up at 12:46. Traffic and heavy pressure in front of the net allowed Miller to go hard to the net and force the puck past Hutton.
Brandon Pirri, who has been fairly quiet since the All-Star break, put Rockford ahead once again 16 minutes into the final period. Andrew Shaw set up the goal as both he and Pirri came into the Chicago zone on a two-on-two rush. Shaw fed the puck left to Pirri, and a quick release shot was fired past Lack’s shoulder to the back of the net.
Both teams were held scoreless on the power play with Chicago going 0-for-6, and Rockford held off on their three opportunities.
The following night, Milwaukee came to the BMO Harris Bank Center for the sixth of 12 meetings between the two clubs this season. In the previous five games against the Admirals this season, Rockford holds a 3-1-0-1 record.
In what would turn out to be a goaltender battle, Rockford’s Hutton would come out ahead with a thrilling 2-1 shootout victory.
Milwaukee’s lone goal came in the first period off a defensive miscue by Rockford in their own zone. Hutton grabbed the puck behind his net and fed at to the far-side defense. As the defenseman attempted to clear the puck, Milwaukee’s Jani Lajunen stepped in the lane, stole the puck, and fired it over Hutton’s shoulder for a 1-0 lead.
After a scoreless second period, and time winding down in the third, Rockford finally got one past Atte Engren with 3:47 left in regulation. Brian Fahey found Svendsen, who once again took the puck behind the net and tried a quick wraparound shot. Svendsen snagged his own rebound and the puck found its way to the right wing and onto Brandon Bollig’s stick. Rockford’s leader in penalty minutes wristed the puck toward the net, and beat Engren for the tying goal.
Regulation ended with a 1-1 tie, and Rockford dominated the overtime session with a 6-0 shot-on-goal advantage, but Engren stopped all six ’Hogs shots to force a shootout.
Bollig was the first shooter, which Engren stopped. Chris Mueller was Milwaukee’s first shooter, which Hutton stopped. Rockford would get two shootout goals from Pirri and Rostislav Olesz, while Hutton stopped shots from Ryan Ellis and Kyle Wilson. Shaw had the chance to end the game if he could score on his attempt. Shaw skated hard to the net, and with a quick wrister, got the puck past Engren and slid on his right side to the backboards. Shaw popped right up and skated on one knee toward the middle of the ice, where the rest of the team raced out to greet him as they celebrated their second-straight win, 2-1.
Neither team was successful on the power play with both teams going 0-for-6.
Rockford’s third game in three days came against the same Chicago club they defeated Friday, Feb. 24. Both Lack and Hutton got the nod in net once again. Both goalies played exceptionally well, carrying a shutout after 60 minutes of hockey. But it was Rockford, on their 41st shot of the evening, that scored the first, and only, goal of the game, winning in overtime.
The penalty-filled game was mostly dominated by Rockford in the first period, but evened out in the next 40 minutes. Rockford held an 18-5 shot advantage in the first period, but Chicago outshot Rockford in the final two periods with a 21-18 advantage.
Rockford’s penalty kill was batting 1.000 this week, and the PK unit would shine again on Sunday, Feb. 26. The ’Hogs stopped all eight shorthanded opportunities, which included two five-on-three kills, as well as a 5-minute major. IceHogs announcer Mike Peck pointed out a stat in regard to the IceHogs penalty kill against Chicago this season, stating Rockford was at an astounding 94 percent kill percentage after 12 games between the two clubs.
With 60 minutes of hockey played, and no team on the board, the ’Hogs would play their second overtime game in as many days. Although, the outcome would be different this time. As time was winding down in the extra session, Jeremy Morin rushed into the offensive zone, made a nice move, and fired a shot past Lack, giving Rockford the 1-0 overtime win, and Hutton his second shutout of the season.
Keys of the week:
1. Penalty kill coming up big — Rockford’s PK unit came up huge this week, stopping all 20 shorthanded opportunities. Undoubtedly, the biggest kills were on Sunday against Chicago with the two five-on-three and one 5-minute major.
2. Strong goaltending — Hutton continued his rock-solid play, stopping 74 of 77 shots he faced, not including the three shoot-out shots he turned away, earning a 3-0 record and his second shutout of the season.
3. Defense and penalties still creating opportunities for opponents — Even though Rockford only allowed three goals this week, their defense still showed some weakness. The lone Milwaukee goal was a result of a Rockford turnover, and Rockford’s 20 shorthanded situations gave the opposition plenty of chances to score. If it weren’t for the excellent goaltending, Rockford would not have earned the 6 points they received this week.
Rockford stays home for one game this week, Wednesday, Feb. 29, to play host to the Abbotsford Heat for the final meeting between both teams in the regular season. Abbotsford’s visit also marks the return of former IceHogs players Brian Connelly, Akim Aliu and Hugh Jessiman. Friday, March 2, Rockford heads north to play the Admirals at 7 p.m., then down to Peoria Saturday, March 3, for the final time this season for a 7 p.m. game against the Rivermen.
From the Feb. 29-March 6, 2012, issue