By Todd Reicher
Exclusive to TRRT
After missing the playoffs for the past four years–and not winning a playoff game in six–the IceHogs have dispatched the Texas Stars in three straight games to sweep the series and move on to the second round.
Rockford clinched the series was last Wednesday at the BMO Harris Bank Center.
Phillip Danault had a strong game for Rockford, not only on the scoresheet but defensively as well.
Danault tallied the first marker of the game 3:43 into the first period. The hard-working center found the puck towards the front of the net and dished it in to put Rockford up 1-0 early.
Mark McNeill and Viktor Svedberg assisted on the game’s first goal.
Stars forward Devan Shore evened the score shortly before the end of the period with his first postseason goal. With 39 seconds left Shore scored unassisted to put the score at 1-1 through 20.
Rockford outshot the Stars 18-12 in the opening section but Jussi Rynnas made some excellent saves to keep the contest close.
Texas came out firing in the second and took control for a good part of the opening minutes of the second period but Michael Leighton and the rest of his squad kept the game knotted at one.
With 1:19 left in the second Scott Glennie tallied his first goal of the postseason to give the Stars a 2-1 lead heading into the final frame.
Just shy of the halfway mark of the final period Danault made a spectacular play to tie the game at 2-2.
Danault skated around the Texas defense and fired a shot on net which was fended off by Rynnas. Danault was down on the ground, with his head facing away from the net, as he swiped his stick toward the puck. Danault managed to get under the puck and elevated it up and over Rynnas for his second goal of the game.
Brandon Mashinter had a breakaway opportunity late in the period to end it but lost the puck as he got close to the net.
The 2-2 score would stand until the end of regulation with Texas outshooting Rockford 41-40 after three periods. For the first time in the series the ‘Hogs were headed for extra hockey.
It would also be the first time Rockford was held to under four goals in the series.
On the first shift of overtime Rockford put the puck deep in the Texas zone but the Stars were able to beat Rockford on the boards and take possession of the puck.
A long pass from the right boards by Texas winger Brandon Ranford was intercepted by Stephen Johns and the rookie defenseman carried the puck into the zone, made a move to the inside, then back outside and took the rubber around the net.
As he got to the other side of the net, Johns spun around and looked for a wraparound attempt. Rynnas was unable to get his skate to the other post in time and there was about a pucks-worth of space for Johns to find. He managed to squeeze it through the space and into the net.
Johns raced to center ice as the ‘Hogs cleared the bench to celebrate the game-winning overtime goal just 23 seconds into the extra session.
Rockford had a few days off to wait for the other Western Conference teams to finish their series to determine whom they would face in the semifinals.
With the Oklahoma City Barons dispatching the third seed San Antonio Rampage in three games, the Utica Comets and the Chicago Wolves would go to a deciding fifth game along with the Toronto Marlies and the Grand Rapids Griffins.
Utica would win their series with a 4-2 victory on Saturday and the Griffins finished off the Marlies after being down 2-0 in the series with a 3-1 win on Sunday.
The first place Utica Comets will have home-ice advantage over the sixth seed Oklahoma City Barons in the next round while the second place Griffins will host the opening games of their series against the IceHogs, who finished the season as the fourth seed.
Game one of the Griffins-IceHogs series will take place tonight in Grand Rapids, with the second game on Friday.
After two games, the series will swing back to Rockford for the remainder of the set. Game three will be next Wednesday, May 13 at the BMO with game four taking place the following night, Thursday, May 14.
Both games will start at 7 p.m.. If a fifth game is needed, it will be at the BMO on Sunday, May 17 at 4:00.
If a game six and seven are needed, they will both be at the Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids on Tuesday, May 19 at 6 p.m, and a potential game seven will be the following night, Wednesday, May 20.
All of the games are available via channel 23.2 Antenna TV.
Rockford finished the regular season with a 4-3-1 record against the Griffins.