By Todd Reicher
Exclusive to TRRT
After sweeping the Texas Stars in the first round of the playoffs the IceHogs find themselves down 0-2 against the 2013 Calder Cup champion Grand Rapids Griffins.
Last Wednesday’s opening game was a close contest until the final few minutes.
Rockford’s Mark McNeill responded at 8:41 of the same period with his first goal of the post-season to even things up at 1-1 after 20 minutes.
Two goals in three minutes by Teemu Pulkkinen put Grand Rapids up 3-1 late in the second period, putting Rockford in a bind.
Rockford answered the bell early in the third period with a Stephen Johns tally 3:16 into the final period to draw the ‘Hogs to within one goal.
Midway through the period Garrett Ross got the equalizer, tying things up at 3-3. After being tied with 14 shots on goal in the first period Rockford was outshot the Griffins 21-6 in the second and third.
Late in the third period Pulkkinen struck again, completing the hat trick with 2:46 left in the game to put the Griffins ahead 4-3.
With Michael Leighton to the bench Rockford was unable to tally with the extra skater and Louis-Marc Aubry set in an empty-netter to give the Griffins a 5-3 win.
Friday night’s game two saw the IceHogs fall again, this time by a 5-1 margin.
It was Brandon Mashinter getting Rockford on the scoreboard first 6:18 into the opening period to set Rockford up with a 1-0 lead.
From there on out it was all Grand Rapids, with the Griffins scoring five unanswered goals to give the Griffins a two-game lead over Rockford.
Tyler Bertuzzi tied the score at 1-1 12:26 into the first period tying the game once again at 1-1 after the first period.
Anthony Mantha tallied the only second period goal, giving the Griffins their first lead of the game, 2-1. That score would carry until the third period when the wheels fell off for Rockford.
Pulkkinen scored his fourth goal in two games at 1:36 of the third period to put Grand Rapids solidly ahead 3-1. The goals was Pulkkinen’s 10th of the post season.
Six minutes later Captain Jeff Hoggan tallied his first post-season marker to nail it down and a final power-play marker by Pulkkinen with 4:36 remaining, ended the scoring with a 5-1 Griffins win.
At the end of the game tempers flared for Rockford and Grand Rapids and 72 penalty minutes were doled between the two teams, with Rockford earning 42 and 30 for Grand Rapids.
Infractions were mostly unsportsmanlike conduct penalties and the recipients were P.C. Labrie, Cody Bass, Keith Seabrook, Brennan Evans, Mantha and Kevin Porter.
No suspensions were handed out, but it appears the physical tone for the remainder of the season has been set.
The series will now switch to Rockford for three straight games giving the IceHogs an opportunity to even things back up and potentially take the lead on home ice.
It will not be an easy task as Rockford will need to win four of the next five games in order to win the series.
Game three of the series will be at the BMO Harris Bank Center tonight at 7 p.m.
Game four is set for Thursday with another 7 p.m. start. If the IceHogs win at least one of those two games a game five will be at the BMO on Sunday at 4 p.m.
If Rockford wins two of the three home games, the series will shift back to Grand Rapids for a game six and seven, if necessary.
If those games do happen, game six will be Tuesday, May 19 and seven would be Wednesday, May 20.