Tales from the Trough: IceHogs split a pair of home games in week 21

Rockford IceHogs forward Ben Smith (21) puts a shot on Peoria Rivermen goaltender Jake Allen (34) while defenseman David Shields (5) tries to block the shot. In his third game back after returning from injury, Smith scored two goals Friday, March 1, in Rockford’s 4-1 win against the Peoria Rivermen. (Photo by Todd Reicher)

By Todd Reicher
Sports Columnist

As the 2012-2013 season rolls on, the Rockford IceHogs continue what they do late in the season every year, and that is win games. Rockford came into week 21 of the season riding a season-high five-game winning streak, which tied their AHL record for the longest winning streak.

The Peoria Rivermen rolled into town Friday, March 1, looking to halt the ’Hogs’ winning streak.

Mark Cundari put Peoria on the board first with his fourth marker of the season at 3:07 of the opening frame. Cundari blasted a shot from the blueline that was initially stopped by ’Hogs goaltender Carter Hutton. However, the blast had enough force to find its way through Hutton’s pads and across the goal line for a goal.

In his third game back since returning from injury, Ben Smith tallied his 16th goal of the season midway through the opening frame to knot the score at 1-1. Brandon Svendsen made a perfect pass over to Smith, who rifled a shot past Jake Allen to tie things up.

From then on, it was Rockford’s special teams play that carried the ’Hogs through the rest of the game as Rockford would tally three powerplay markers on seven attempts and hold the Rivermen scoreless on their seven attempts.

The first powerplay goal was Smith’s second goal of the game, coming at 12:49 of the first period. With Smith stationed in front of the net, Brandon Pirri fired a shot that was blocked away by Jake Allen, but came right back to Smith. Allen blocked Smith’s initial shot, but his second attempt made it past Allen to give the ’Hogs their first lead of the game.

Rockford’s powerplay unit struck again early in the middle period with Jeremy Morin getting a cross-ice feed from Pirri and ripping a one-timer from the near side into the net. Shawn Lalonde was credited with the secondary assist; Lalonde also assisted on Smith’s second goal.

A scary hit took place just after the midway point of the second period when Svendsen was boarded by Chris Bruton. Svendsen was playing the puck at the far corner and was partially bent over to gain possession of the puck, and Bruton came rushing in, making solid contact with his shoulder to the head of Svendsen. After a minute of his lying motionless on the ice, a stretcher was brought onto the ice as Svendsen was boarded onto the cart and immediately rushed off the ice.

Not to be outdone by Smith, Morin scored his second goal of the game with another powerplay marker late in the second. Morin slapped a one-timer into the back of the net during a four-on-three power play to give Rockford a commanding 4-1 lead. Pirri earned his third point of the night with a secondary assist as he factored into three of the ’Hogs’ four goals on the night.

Neither team managed any scoring in the final period as the ’Hogs skated to a 4-1 victory, earning their sixth-straight victory, breaking the ’Hogs’ AHL record for most consecutive wins. However, the victory was overshadowed by the fact that Svendsen was not severely injured and returned to the ice in the third period after being carted off earlier in the game.

The following night, Rockford hosted another Midwest Division opponent in the Milwaukee Admirals. Through the first 20 minutes, it looked as if Rockford was playing their third game in four days as Milwaukee was all over the IceHogs. The Ads controlled the puck for most of the period, peppered Henrik Karlsson with 14 shots while only allowing six shots at their netminder Jeremy Smith, and carried a 2-0 lead into the locker room.

Of the 14 shots Karlsson faced in the opening period, two of them found the back of the Rockford net. Milwaukee tallied almost 7 minutes apart with a goal at 7:57 and 14:03 of the opening period. Both goals were a result of Rockford miscues in their defensive zone.

Goal No. 1 for the Ads was started by Chris Mueller, who picked off a Rockford pass and found Brad Winchester in front of Karlsson to slide the puck into the net for a 1-0 lead.

The Ads doubled their lead later in the first when Winchester took possession of the puck behind the ’Hogs’ net and fed Daniel Bang, who fired home his fifth marker of the season.

Milwaukee upped their lead to 3-0 when Patrick Cehlin cleanly beat Karlsson as he raced in on the right wing and fired a quick wrist shot into the net. The shot was taken from close to the boards, where Karlsson had a clear view, typically a shot Karlsson would stop.

Rockford started their comeback 54 seconds later with Kyle Beach netting his 14th marker of the season. Beach was hanging out in front of the Ads net as Pirri sent a pass that landed right on Beach’s stick. The puck made its way under Jeremy Smith, cutting the lead to 3-1.

It looked like Rockford was going to bring the game to 3-2 when Terry Broadhurst rang a shot off the crossbar and the red goal light lit up. After the officials reviewed the replay, it was determined the puck did not completely cross the goal line, and the goal was waved off.

Jimmy Hayes made it a one-goal game with 6:36 left in the game. Martin St. Pierre found Hayes parked out front, as another puck slipped under Smith to close the gap to 3-2.

A late tripping penalty by Ryan Stanton with 1:45 left in the game all but sealed Rockford’s fate for a comeback, and Milwaukee held on to beat Rockford 3-2. The loss halted Rockford’s winning streak at six, and put the ’Hogs in a tie for third place in the division with Milwaukee.

Looking forward

Rockford heads down to Oklahoma City for their annual weekend two-game series against the Oklahoma City Barons this weekend. After starting out hot, the Barons cooled off once the NHL lockout ended, and a majority of their top two lines were moved back to their parent club, the Edmonton Oilers. However, the Barons have started to see a slight upswing in their last 10 games, showing a 6-3-0-1 record as they fight for a playoff spot and sit only 1 point ahead of the IceHogs in the conference standings. The first game of the series takes place Friday, March 8, at 7 p.m., with the second game the following night at the same time.

The ’Hogs then travel all the way back to Illinois for a Sunday afternoon, March 10, road game against the Chicago Wolves with a 4 p.m. start time. It will be a key stretch of games as Rockford will face Chicago three times in four games, starting with the Sunday, March 10, matchup.

From the March 6-12, 2013, issue

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