By Todd Reicher
The Rockford IceHogs continued in their pursuit of the 2014 AHL Calder Cups playoffs and earned 1 point this weekend, splitting a home-and-home with the Chicago Wolves.
Friday’s (March 21) game at the Allstate Arena is one the ’Hogs would like to forget about, as the Wolves dominated the ’Hogs, en route to a 6-0 blowout.
Rockford fell down 2-0 in the first period, then dug themselves a deeper hole, going down 5-0 after 40 minutes. The ’Hogs’ offense was held at bay, as the Wolves held a 27-11 shots-on-goal advantage through the first two periods.
The ’Hogs also lost two defensemen as a result of game misconducts: team captain Jared Nightingale and Bobby Shea. Nightingale was sent off because of fighting and leaving the bench, and Shea was thrown out for a 5-minute major for elbowing and a game misconduct for a fight off the ice surface. After Shea was ejected, he headed into the tunnel and back to the ’Hogs’ locker room. At the Allstate Arena, there is only one tunnel for both players to enter and exit, so when Ty Rattie was sent off for the Wolves, he had to navigate the same tunnel. Shea waited for Rattie in the tunnel, and then started a fight, which was broken up by security at the Allstate. The following day, Shea would be suspended by the league for eight games and Nightingale for five.
Once again, Rockford’s penalty kill was manhandled for two goals against on five attempts, and Kent Simpson allowed six goals on 37 shots, while Jake Allen stopped all 23 shots.
The following night, both teams traveled to Rockford for the second night of the home-and-home with Rockford, edging out the Wolves 2-1 in the shootout.
In what would be a goaltenders’ duel, Jason LaBarbera bested Matt Climie, stopping 35 of 36 shots to Climie’s 31 of 32. LaBarbera excelled in the shootout, stopping four of five compared to Climie’s three of five.
Rockford’s Drew LeBlanc looked to have put Rockford on the board late in the first period, but after official review, it was determined LeBlanc kicked the puck into the net, reversing the goal.
The first goal of the game came on a defensive lapse from the Rockford defense. Cody Beach got behind the Rockford defense from a breakout pass by Nathan Longpre. Beach snapped a quick shot blocker side of LaBarbera, which hit the post and bounced in for the 1-0 lead.
Brad Mills knotted the score with 42 seconds left in the second period. Adam Clendening fired a shot at the net, which Mills tipped past Climie. Joakim Nordstrom was credited with the secondary assist on the game-tying goal.
After a scoreless third period, and overtime, we headed for the shootout.
The only goal surrendered by LaBarbera in the “skills competition” was a sweet move by veteran Keith Aucoin. As Aucoin approached the net, LaBarbera reached out for the poke check just as Aucoin pulled the puck back to his right. The move left the net wide open, as Aucion deposited the puck to tie the shootout at 1-1.
Prior to Aucoin’s goal, Garret Ross lifted a puck over the glove side of Climie for the first score of the shootout.
After Aucoin’s goal, Pierre-Marc Bouchard performed the same move as Ross: a backhand over the glove for the score.
Terry Broadhurst attempted the same move in the fifth round, but found the back of Climie’s glove instead.
LaBarbera stoned Alexandre Bolduc in the fifth round to seal the 2-1 shootout win for the ’Hogs.
Keys for the week
Despite Rockford’s leading scorer, Jeremy Morin, getting called up to the Blackhawks, the ’Hogs found a way to earn 2 points. The win also came without captain Nightingale and Shea on the ice for Rockford and Wade Brookbank dressing as the sixth defenseman.
LaBarbera had another solid night after Simpson was lit up the night before.
Rockford has another three-games-in-three-days schedule this weekend, with a home-and-home against the Grand Rapids Griffins, followed by a Sunday matinee at home against the Chicago Wolves. Friday, March 28, Rockford will host the Grand Rapids Griffins, then head to Michigan the following night for an away game against the same Griffins. Rockford will then turn around and head back home to play a game 21 hours later against the Wolves.
With four weeks and 11 games remaining in the season, Rockford sits at seventh in the Western Conference, good enough for a playoff spot (held by the top eight teams). Rockford is 1 point ahead of the Rochester Americans, who have 70 points, but one game in hand on the ’Hogs. Rockford has 4 points on the two closest teams behind them in the Charlotte Checkers and the Oklahoma City Barons, who both sit at 67 points. The Utica Comets, who have won seven of their last 10 games, sit at 65 points with one game in hand.
Posted March 25, 2014