By Todd Reicher
Exclusive to TRRT
With only a few weeks left in the regular season the Rockford IceHogs continued their push towards the playoffs with their fourth straight win and eighth in 10 games
After a Wednesday victory against the Adirondack Flames in overtime, Rockford collected a repeat performance three days later on Saturday.
After a scoreless first period behind both teams, Rockford’s Stephen Johns broke the tie only 57 seconds into the second period with his second tally of the season.
Johns received the puck in transition from Trevor van Riemsdyk and carried it into the offensive zone. Johns casually threw the puck at the net and it somehow eluded Flames goaltender Brad Thiessen.
Ryan Hartman, who was the secondary assist on the Johns goal, scored his 10th goal of the season with 3:36 left in the period to increase the ‘Hogs lead to 2-0.
If that wasn’t enough, Hartman was the secondary assist on the next goal 2:12 seconds later. Matt Carey struck on the power play for Rockford, netting his ninth of the campaign and increasing Rockford’s lead to 3-0.
After 40 minutes the ‘Hogs showed a slight advantage in shots-on-goal, 21-20, but Antti Raanta was the difference maker in this one so far, stopping all 20 shots.
As Rockford typically does with a third period lead, they locked down the Flames and limited the amount of shots they put on the net allowing only six shots to reach Raanta.
With Thiessen on the bench for the extra attacker, Johns found the back of the empty net from center-ice with 1:06 remaining putting Rockford up 4-0.
The score would stand under the final buzzer and Raanta was rewarded with his first shutout of the season for Rockford. Since being reassigned to the IceHogs, Raanta shows a 4-0-1 record and 2.19 goals against average and a .923 save percentage.
It also marked the fourth different goaltender to register a shutout for Rockford this season.
The following afternoon the IceHogs hosted the Texas Stars for the final time in the regular season.
The Sunday matinee also marked the team’s annual Jersey Auction game, with the theme for this season being Autism Awareness.
Texas has been as hot as Rockford, winning six of their last seven with the one loss coming in overtime.
Five minutes into the game Texas was outshooting Rockford 6-0 and had all of the momentum and energy, despite playing their third game in four days.
The Stars jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead but Rockford responded with three of their own to put the ‘Hogs up 3-2 after 20 minutes.
Justin Dowling scored his 17th of the season 7:07 into the first period, followed by a Greg Rallo marker 64 seconds later to quickly put the Stars up 2-0.
Brandon Mashinter cut the lead in half with his 14th goal of the season, a power play marker marker 1:16 after the Rallo score.
Next up to bat was Dennis Rasmussen, sniping a feed from Garrett Ross to knot the score at 2-2.
Finally, Mark McNeill scored an unassisted goal with 2:05 left in the first period to give the ‘Hogs their first lead of the game.
Rockford’s power play struck again midway through the second period with Spencer Abbott scoring his 12th goal of the year while Rockford had a 5-on-3 advantage. Ville Pokka fed a great cross-crease pass that Abbott slapped in from a one-timer to bring Rockford ahead 4-2.
The third period started out ominously with a Branden Troock goal 3:32 into the period to cut Rockford’s lead to one goal with plenty of time to play.
Despite putting 10 shots on goal in the third period, Michael Leighton only allowed that one goal in the third as Rockford held on to beat Texas 4-3 and earn their fourth straight win.
Rockford looks to sweep their four game home streak with a game today against the Lake Erie Monsters. From there, Rockford heads out East for a three game road swing. The ‘Hogs hit Adirondack on Friday to face the Flames for the final time this season, and then up to Utica to face the Comets for the final time this season.
The following week doesn’t get any easier with a Wednesday, April 1 game against the Grand Rapids Griffins. Both teams meet for a rematch in Rockford the next Friday, April 3.
With Rockford currently four points behind the Griffins with two games in hand, this series could have a huge impact on who will win the Midwest Division.