By Todd Reicher
With the all-star break behind them, the Rockford IceHogs plowed forth to finish up the rest of the regular season.
The first post-break game came against the Chicago Wolves. Rockford started the game off with the first goal of the game late in the first period. One of Rockford’s all-star selections, Mark McNeill, lit the lamp on a power-play tally with 4:33 remaining in the period.
More than 2 minutes later, former Chicago Blackhawks forward Adam Burish drove hard to the net and poked in his sixth marker of the season to even things up at 1-1.
Not much scoring in the second period, but plenty of action, including fights, penalties and goalies making great saves. Despite Chicago out-shooting Rockford 11-9 in the period, both Michael Leighton and Jordan Binnington saved every shot attempt during the period, keeping the score knotted at 1-1 going into the third frame.
Midway through the final period, defenseman Viktor Svedberg launched his third goal of the season past Binnington to put the ’Hogs ahead 2-1.
With time winding down, the Wolves sent Binnington to the bench for a six-on-five advantage. The gamble paid off, as Burish knocked in his second of the game with 62 seconds remaining in regulation, sending the game to overtime.
Chicago took control early, but was unable to register a shot on goal in the first rush up the ice. After a few back-and-forth chances, Jamie Wise came into the zone with Pierre-Cedric Labrie flanked on his left. Wise fired a wrister at Binnington that was mostly absorbed, but the shot had enough momentum to carry past Binnington and into the net for the game-winning goal.
The following night, both teams reacquainted themselves at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont for the second game of the home-and-home series.
This time, it was the Wolves registering the first goal. Chicago’s first shot of the game, 3:46 into the first period, was a goal from Magnus Paajarvi. The snipe shot beat Scott Darling over his shoulder, giving Chicago an early advantage.
Rockford poured shots on Binnington, getting his second start in two days, but was unable to get one past the Ontario native.
The second period had Chicago registering the crucial next goal at 5:21 of the period. Shane Harper tallied his 18th of the season to give Chicago a 2-0 lead.
Drew LeBlanc finally put Rockford on the board at 16:14 of the period. The unassisted goal was the winger’s fourth of the season.
We headed into the second intermission with Chicago up 2-1, and holding a slight advantage in shots with 20 compared to the ’Hog’s 19.
Rockford would gain a big advantage in shots in the final frame, doubling Chicago 14-7. However, it was the Wolves who were able to put the puck in the net.
Paajarvi tallied his second of the game at 8:05 to put Chicago up 3-1, and an empty-net goal with exactly 1 minute remaining in the game sealed the win for Chicago, as the Wolves took a 4-1 victory at home.
The win gave Chicago the slight edge in the weekend series, taking home 3 of a possible 4 points, with Rockford taking 2 from the Friday win.
Rockford now has 30 games remaining in the season as the ’Hogs cling to second place overall in the Western Conference. The ’Hogs sit 6 points behind the Oklahoma City Barons, who are in first with 64, and have one game in hand. Right behind the ’Hogs are the Utica Comets, who have 56 points, but three games in hand on Rockford.
In the divisional race, the Milwaukee Admirals sit only three games behind Rockford, but have three games in hand. With three straight games coming against the Ads, Rockford has a chance to distance themselves from Milwaukee and solidify their place in the division and conference.
With the weekend split, the Wolves sit 8 points behind Rockford with 50 points, and one game in hand. The 50 points is enough to keep the Wolves tied for the eighth, and final, playoff spot in the Western Conference with the Hamilton Bulldogs.
In other news, Rockford defenseman Adam Clendening was traded to the Vancouver Canucks for 19-year-old prospect defenseman Gustav Forsling, who is playing in the Swedish Hockey League for Linköping.
Rockford has a crucial home-and-home series with the streaking Milwaukee Admirals, winners in nine of their last 10, with the first game of the series taking place in Milwaukee Friday, Feb. 6. Both teams return back to Rockford the following night for the second game of the series. Rockford will play a third straight game against Milwaukee the following week on Friday, Feb. 13, before returning home again to face the Western Conference-leading Oklahoma City Barons.
From the Feb. 4-10, 2015, issue