By Todd Reicher
The Rockford IceHogs have fallen out of a playoff spot after a two-game skid in Abbotsford this past weekend.
Rockford, needing 1 point to hang on to the eighth — and final — playoff spot, lost both away games to put them at 75 points, 1 point behind the Rochester Americans for the last playoff spot.
Friday’s game, Rockford drew first blood with a Mark McNeill goal 3:05 into the first period.
However, the Heat struck back with three goals of their own in the first to head into the locker room with a 3-1 lead.
Rockford continued to fire pucks at the net throughout the second, putting four times as many shots on goal as the Heat, but the deficit remained a two-goal difference. Alex Broadhurst netted his 14th goal of the season just 49 seconds into the second, but Corban Knight tallied his third goal of the game at 7:28 to put the Heat lead back to two goals.
Sven Baertschi extended the lead to 5-2 before Adam Clendening pulled Rockford back to a two-goal differential before the second period expired. Rockford almost quadrupled the Heat in shots-on-goal again in the third, but to no avail. Joni Ortio stopped an impressive 45 shots on goal and carried Abbotsford to a 6-3 win.
Rockford out-shot the Heat by an astounding 48-18, but gave up six goals. Jason LaBarbera was pulled after 27 minutes, giving up four goals on 12 shots. Kent Simpson came on in relief, and made four saves on five shots, but by then, Ortio had the game in control.
Both teams met again the following night, and it was more of the same for Rockford.
For the second game in a row, Abbotsford scored three first-period goals to take control of the game. After the third goal, just 10:02 into the game, Simpson was pulled, giving way to LaBarbera. Simpson showed a paltry one save on four shots.
Rockford didn’t get on the board until Garret Ross scored 16:33 into the second to bring the game to a 3-1 Heat lead, which carried into the third period.
Baertschi scored early for Abbotsford to all but put the nail in the coffin for Rockford. Clendening made a game of it by scoring at 6:40 of the final frame, and new arrival Stephen Johns, who was in the lineup because of his season at Notre Dame ending, scored his first professional goal in his second start.
An empty-net goal with 32 seconds left finished off Rockford, and the Heat took a 5-3 win, sweeping the weekend series.
Keys for the week
Defense was the downfall for Rockford this weekend, as the ’Hogs gave up a total of 11 goals in two games this weekend. After scoring first on Friday’s game, Rockford would not hold a lead again through the entire six periods of play. Amazingly, Rockford out-shot the Heat 74-38 in the two-game series, yet failed to earn a point.
With two weeks and six games remaining in the regular season, Rockford needs to turn on the jets if they want to make the playoffs. If Rockford can manage to equal the pace of their conference rivals in the Oklahoma City Barons, Charlotte Checkers and the Rochester Americans, the ’Hogs should have a spot in the playoffs. However, the road will be difficult, despite playing four of their final six games at home. Rockford will face off twice against Milwaukee, two times against Chicago, along with home games against Iowa and Charlotte.
This week, Rockford will take on the Admirals Tuesday, April 8 (results unavailable at press time) and then host the same Admirals Friday, April 11. The following night, Rockford remains home to host the Iowa Wild. Rockford will end their four-game week with a road trip to Chicago against the Wolves Sunday, April 13.
Photos from these — and other — Rockford IceHogs home games can be seen on my website at www.reicherstudios.com/Sports/HockeyPhotos, or on my Facebook page, www.Facebook.com/ReicherStudios.
Posted April 9, 2014