Tales from the Trough: Key divisional wins keep IceHogs in playoff chase

April 17, 2013

By Todd Reicher

Sports Columnist

With only two weeks remaining in the regular season, the Rockford IceHogs needed some big wins against two of their divisional foes this past week to keep their playoff hopes alive. Prior to this past weekend’s games, Rockford was in a three-way tie for the eighth — and final — playoff spot with the Chicago Wolves and the Milwaukee Admirals, both of the teams they were facing this weekend.

Friday’s (April 12) game was Rockford’s final home game of the regular season with the Wolves arriving for the sixth, and final, time. Chicago held a 3-2 record at the BMO Harris Bank Center, and Rockford finished 3-2-0-1 at the Allstate Arena, so the winner of this game would have the edge in the season head-to-head standings (Rockford had a shootout loss at Chicago, which gives them an additional point).

Before the game started, the IceHogs held their annual team awards, recognizing certain players for their achievements throughout the season. The results were as follow:

Team MVP(s): Martin St. Pierre and Brandon Pirri; Best Defenseman: Ryan Stanton; Rookie of the Year: Adam Clendening; Most Improved Player: Klas Dahlbeck; Unsung Hero: Ben Smith; Fan Favorite: Carter Hutton; Man of the Year: Jimmy Hayes; Leading Scorer: Pirri. In addition, Rostislav Olesz was named the AHL Player of the Week last week, and was honored with the other award recipients. Also, Clendening was named to the AHL’s Second All-Star team.

Chicago took the first lead of the game with an unassisted goal by Brett Sterling at 8:30 of the first period. A loose puck eluded Hutton, and Sterling was in the right place at the right time to sneak it past “Huts” for his 23rd of the season.

That was the last time Rockford would fall behind in the game. The ’Hogs responded with a powerplay goal with 2:17 left in the opening frame. Perfect tic-tac-toe passing between Pirri, Shawn Lalonde and Smith led to a tap-in on the back door from Smith, who was playing in his first game back after a hand injury sidelined him for a few weeks.

A Brad Mills penalty with 15 seconds remaining in the first period carried over to the second period, when Rockford turned the tables on Chicago. Pirri was defending the blue line on the powerplay when a crossing pass hit Pirri’s stick and floated into the neutral zone. Pirri quickly tracked down the puck and carried it in for a breakaway, where he beat starting goaltender Matt Climie with a quick backhand, putting Rockford up 2-1.

Olesz extended Rockford’s lead as he got behind the defense on a pass from Kyle Beach and beat Climie top shelf 47 seconds after Pirri gave Rockford the lead. Pirri was credited with the secondary assist, marking his third point of the evening.

Later in the second, Chicago cut the lead back down to a goal when Eric Kattelus deflected a shot past Hutton.

With 45 seconds left in the period, Rockford reclaimed a two-goal lead with Smith’s second tally of the night. Pirri’s shot was blocked down by Climie, but Smith was on the doorstop to pick up the puck. Smith faked to the right, which pulled Climie over, then Smith pulled the puck back to the left to the open net.

After 40 minutes, Joe Cannata came in for relief of Climie, who was peppered with 44 shots over the first two periods, including 25 in the second frame. Cannata didn’t fare much better, as a one-timer from Beach put Rockford up by a 5-2 margin early in the third.

Smith gave Rockford their second hat trick of the year when he put in his 22nd goal of the season at 7:57 of the final period. Similar to his second goal, a Pirri shot was blocked down, and Smitty collected the loose change and lifted the puck to the back of the net.

The scoring wasn’t over for Rockford quite yet. IceHogs goal leader Jeremy Morin tallied his 29th of the season with exactly 4 minutes remaining in the game. Once again, Pirri was credited with the assist, giving him a record-setting sixth point of the night. Smith also assisted on the goal, giving him his fourth point of the evening.

Chicago managed a powerplay goal with 29 seconds left in the game, but it wasn’t nearly enough to make a dent in the score, which Rockford wound up dominating 7-3. The victory put Rockford ahead of Chicago by 2 points in the standings, although Chicago still has two games in hand over Rockford.

Many records were set during this game for Rockford. As mentioned, Pirri and his 6 points were an AHL record for Rockford; Lalonde finished with a franchise-record +6 plus/minus rating; and the team fired 58 shots on goal, an IceHogs record and the largest number of shots taken in an AHL game for any team since Providence took 59 shots in Albany Nov. 8, 2008. The IceHogs’ fifth sellout of the season helped the attendance stat as Rockford averaged 4,515 guests per game, which also set a franchise record.

The following night, the IceHogs traveled to Milwaukee for the final time this season. The IceHogs held a 3-1-1 record at the BMO Harris Bradley Center in Milwaukee coming into the game, and a 6-4-1-0 record against their divisional rivals this season.

Neither team managed a goal in the opening 20 minutes, despite 17 total shots.

Rockford was the first team to crack the scoreboard with Clendening tallying his eighth goal of the season while on their third powerplay of the game.

Smith extended the lead for Rockford on another powerplay later in the period. Morin launched a shot that sneaked its way behind goaltender Magnus Hellberg. Smith quickly swatted at the puck before Milwaukee could clear it away, putting Rockford up 2-0, which held to the end of the second period.

Shortly after the midway point of the third period, Rockford extended their lead to 3-0. Dahlbeck tallied his first AHL goal at 12:47 to put Rockford in command with 7:13 left in the game.

Hutton’s bid for a shutout was lost with 5 minutes remaining in the game, thanks to Juuso Puustinen. Hutton let out a rebound to his side, which Puustinen slid in for his 15th marker of the season.

The Admirals pulled Hellberg with 2 minutes remaining in the game, and a penalty from rookie Joakim Nordstrom put the Ads on a six-on-four advantage for the remainder of the game. However, the Rockford defense fought off a late onslaught of shots, and the ’Hogs skated away with a much-needed 3-1 victory. The win over the Ads put Rockford in sole possession of the eighth, and final, playoff spot going into the final week of the season. Similar to Chicago, Milwaukee has two games in hand on Rockford.

The playoff picture

As mentioned earlier, Rockford holds the eighth, and final, playoff spot with 83 points, which are 2 more than Chicago and Milwaukee, who are both tied at 81. Again, the Wolves and Ads have two games in hand on Rockford. But here is where it gets interesting: Milwaukee and Chicago have four games remaining and will face one another two more times. The best scenario for Rockford would be if both teams won one game in regulation. That would put all three teams tied at 83 points, but Rockford would hold the tiebreaker over both teams.

Not including the two head-to-head games between Milwaukee and Chicago, it appears each of the three teams will have a similar schedule, with each team playing a team in the playoffs and one without a chance of making the playoffs. Milwaukee will play Charlotte (which has clinched a playoff spot) at home and Peoria on the road, Chicago will play at Lake Erie and home against Grand Rapids (which has clinched a playoff spot) while Rockford plays at San Antonio and at Cedar Park against the Stars (who lead the Western Conference).

So, if the above scenario of Chicago and Milwaukee splitting their series in regulation plays out, and each team wins out their season, Rockford will earn the eighth seed and advance into the playoffs.

By Todd ReicherSports Columnist With only two weeks remaining in the regular season, the Rockford IceHogs needed some big wins against two of their divisional foes this past week to keep their playoff hopes alive. Prior to this past weekend’s games, Rockford was in a three-way tie for the eighth — and final — playoff spot with the Chicago Wolves and the Milwaukee Admirals, both of the teams they were facing this weekend.Friday’s (April 12) game was Rockford’s final home game of the regular season with the Wolves arriving for the sixth, and final, time. Chicago held a 3-2 record at the BMO Harris Bank Center, and Rockford finished 3-2-0-1 at the Allstate Arena, so the winner of this game would have the edge in the season head-to-head standings (Rockford had a shootout loss at Chicago, which gives them an additional point).Before the game started, the IceHogs held their annual team awards, recognizing certain players for their achievements throughout the season. The results were as follow:Team MVP(s): Martin St. Pierre and Brandon Pirri; Best Defenseman: Ryan Stanton; Rookie of the Year: Adam Clendening; Most Improved Player: Klas Dahlbeck; Unsung Hero: Ben Smith; Fan Favorite: Carter Hutton; Man of the Year: Jimmy Hayes; Leading Scorer: Pirri. In addition, Rostislav Olesz was named the AHL Player of the Week last week, and was honored with the other award recipients. Also, Clendening was named to the AHL’s Second All-Star team.Chicago took the first lead of the game with an unassisted goal by Brett Sterling at 8:30 of the first period. A loose puck eluded Hutton, and Sterling was in the right place at the right time to sneak it past “Huts” for his 23rd of the season.That was the last time Rockford would fall behind in the game. The ’Hogs responded with a powerplay goal with 2:17 left in the opening frame. Perfect tic-tac-toe passing between Pirri, Shawn Lalonde and Smith led to a tap-in on the back door from Smith, who was playing in his first game back after a hand injury sidelined him for a few weeks.A Brad Mills penalty with 15 seconds remaining in the first period carried over to the second period, when Rockford turned the tables on Chicago. Pirri was defending the blue line on the powerplay when a crossing pass hit Pirri’s stick and floated into the neutral zone. Pirri quickly tracked down the puck and carried it in for a breakaway, where he beat starting goaltender Matt Climie with a quick backhand, putting Rockford up 2-1. Olesz extended Rockford’s lead as he got behind the defense on a pass from Kyle Beach and beat Climie top shelf 47 seconds after Pirri gave Rockford the lead. Pirri was credited with the secondary assist, marking his third point of the evening. Later in the second, Chicago cut the lead back down to a goal when Eric Kattelus deflected a shot past Hutton.With 45 seconds left in the period, Rockford reclaimed a two-goal lead with Smith’s second tally of the night. Pirri’s shot was blocked down by Climie, but Smith was on the doorstop to pick up the puck. Smith faked to the right, which pulled Climie over, then Smith pulled the puck back to the left to the open net.After 40 minutes, Joe Cannata came in for relief of Climie, who was peppered with 44 shots over the first two periods, including 25 in the second frame. Cannata didn’t fare much better, as a one-timer from Beach put Rockford up by a 5-2 margin early in the third.Smith gave Rockford their second hat trick of the year when he put in his 22nd goal of the season at 7:57 of the final period. Similar to his second goal, a Pirri shot was blocked down, and Smitty collected the loose change and lifted the puck to the back of the net.The scoring wasn’t over for Rockford quite yet. IceHogs goal leader Jeremy Morin tallied his 29th of the season with exactly 4 minutes remaining in the game. Once again, Pirri was credited with the assist, giving him a record-setting sixth point of the night. Smith also assisted on the goal, giving him his fourth point of the evening. Chicago managed a powerplay goal with 29 seconds left in the game, but it wasn’t nearly enough to make a dent in the score, which Rockford wound up dominating 7-3. The victory put Rockford ahead of Chicago by 2 points in the standings, although Chicago still has two games in hand over Rockford.Many records were set during this game for Rockford. As mentioned, Pirri and his 6 points were an AHL record for Rockford; Lalonde finished with a franchise-record +6 plus/minus rating; and the team fired 58 shots on goal, an IceHogs record and the largest number of shots taken in an AHL game for any team since Providence took 59 shots in Albany Nov. 8, 2008. The IceHogs’ fifth sellout of the season helped the attendance stat as Rockford averaged 4,515 guests per game, which also set a franchise record.The following night, the IceHogs traveled to Milwaukee for the final time this season. The IceHogs held a 3-1-1 record at the BMO Harris Bradley Center in Milwaukee coming into the game, and a 6-4-1-0 record against their divisional rivals this season. Neither team managed a goal in the opening 20 minutes, despite 17 total shots.Rockford was the first team to crack the scoreboard with Clendening tallying his eighth goal of the season while on their third powerplay of the game.Smith extended the lead for Rockford on another powerplay later in the period. Morin launched a shot that sneaked its way behind goaltender Magnus Hellberg. Smith quickly swatted at the puck before Milwaukee could clear it away, putting Rockford up 2-0, which held to the end of the second period. Shortly after the midway point of the third period, Rockford extended their lead to 3-0. Dahlbeck tallied his first AHL goal at 12:47 to put Rockford in command with 7:13 left in the game. Hutton’s bid for a shutout was lost with 5 minutes remaining in the game, thanks to Juuso Puustinen. Hutton let out a rebound to his side, which Puustinen slid in for his 15th marker of the season. The Admirals pulled Hellberg with 2 minutes remaining in the game, and a penalty from rookie Joakim Nordstrom put the Ads on a six-on-four advantage for the remainder of the game. However, the Rockford defense fought off a late onslaught of shots, and the ’Hogs skated away with a much-needed 3-1 victory. The win over the Ads put Rockford in sole possession of the eighth, and final, playoff spot going into the final week of the season. Similar to Chicago, Milwaukee has two games in hand on Rockford. The playoff pictureAs mentioned earlier, Rockford holds the eighth, and final, playoff spot with 83 points, which are 2 more than Chicago and Milwaukee, who are both tied at 81. Again, the Wolves and Ads have two games in hand on Rockford. But here is where it gets interesting: Milwaukee and Chicago have four games remaining and will face one another two more times. The best scenario for Rockford would be if both teams won one game in regulation. That would put all three teams tied at 83 points, but Rockford would hold the tiebreaker over both teams. Not including the two head-to-head games between Milwaukee and Chicago, it appears each of the three teams will have a similar schedule, with each team playing a team in the playoffs and one without a chance of making the playoffs. Milwaukee will play Charlotte (which has clinched a playoff spot) at home and Peoria on the road, Chicago will play at Lake Erie and home against Grand Rapids (which has clinched a playoff spot) while Rockford plays at San Antonio and at Cedar Park against the Stars (who lead the Western Conference).So, if the above scenario of Chicago and Milwaukee splitting their series in regulation plays out, and each team wins out their season, Rockford will earn the eighth seed and advance into the playoffs.

From the April 17-23, 2013 issue

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>