By Todd Reicher
After earning just one out of a possible four points in Cleveland a week ago, the IceHogs took all four points in a weekend sweep of the Lake Erie Monsters.
The “new” IceHogs lineup (Matt Fraser and Drew MacIntyre, no Marko Dano) and recently returned Viktor Svedberg, coupled with Kyle Cumiskey returning from injury, showed the spark the team needed after a sluggish February.
After a scoreless first period in the Saturday, March 5 game, Rockford erupted for four unanswered goals in the second.
Bryan Bickell opened the scoring in the second with his 13th of the season 82 seconds in.
P.C. Labrie got his 14th of the season off a feed from Jake Dowell with 6:49 elapsed in the period to give Rockford a two goal lead.
On their fourth power play of the evening, Mark McNeill sniped a shot five-hole to put Rockford up 3-0.
Just 42 seconds later, Tanner Kero popped in his team-leading 17th of the season after Fraser hit the post to give Rockford a commanding 4-0 lead, signaling the end of Monsters netminder Brad Thiessen.
Rockford played defensive most of the third, and Labrie tallied his second of the night off a hard wrist shot from above the face-off circle with 3:15 left.
At this time of the game, fans and players were thinking about a shutout for Michael Leighton.
As the game clock hit zero, the players all mobbed Leighton in celebration, for he had just entered the record books by surpassing Johnny Bower for the most shutouts in AHL history. After the players skated towards center ice, Leighton’s family came out to the ice to congratulate him on his momentous record.
The following day, both teams met for a 4 p.m. rematch of the previous evening. This time, MacIntyre would get the nod in net, making his IceHogs debut. The veteran of over 450 AHL games showed why he has been a staple in the league for so many years.
When it looked like the game would repeat itself in a scoreless period from the previous evening, Kyle Baun broke his first goal of the season with 1:30 remaining in the opening period. Baun was set up by Ville Pokka, and Baun got more ice than puck, and the rubber slipped underneath Anton Forsberg and over the goal line for the opening goal.
McNeill continued his hot streak and scored his second goal in as many nights with his 17th of the season 8:46 into the second.
Despite being outshot 25-15, Rockford, along with the help of their revitalized defensive corps and MacIntyre, held the advantage on the scoreboard.
On their fifth and final power play of the game, Lake Erie finally cracked MacIntyre at 15:22 of the third period.
Down by a goal, Lake Erie pulled Forsberg, but were unable to sustain any offensive pressure as Rockford held on for a 2-1 win. MacIntyre ended up with first star of the game honors after stopping 38 of 39 shots faced while Forsberg was saddled with the loss, surrendering two goals on 21 shots.
The weekend sweep gives Rockford points in four straight games, going 2-0-2.
Rockford ends their brief home stand with a Tuesday game against the Milwaukee Admirals before heading off to Charlotte for a weekend series against the Checkers. The IceHogs will return the following Tuesday for another meeting against the Checkers.
Top photo: Rookie forward Kyle Baun scores his first goal of the season for the Rockford IceHogs during Sunday’s game against the Lake Erie Monsters.