By Todd Reicher
The Rockford IceHogs finished the regular season in style as they dispatched two division rivals at home this past weekend.
On Friday, the IceHogs shut out the Grand Rapids Griffins by a score of 4-0, giving Mac Carruth his second shutout of the season, stopping 31 shots.
Nick Mattson started off the scoring for Rockford with his first professional goal 11:17 into the opening frame.
After a scoreless second period, Rockford erupted for three goals in the first five minutes of the final frame to take a commanding 4-0 lead. Ville Pokka tacked on his tenth goal of the season just 28 seconds into the period off a big rebound from a Vince Hinostroza shot.
Tanner Kero, who had the secondary assist on the Pokka goal, scored his 20th of the season at the 3:25 mark, and Mark McNeill capped the scoring with his team-leading 23rd at 4:27 with a power play marker.
The following night, Rockford hosted the Division-winning Milwaukee Admirals, who just had their 13-game point streak snapped the previous evening by the San Diego Gulls. Rockford put away a total of six goals before Milwaukee scored late to break up Carruth’s shutout and end his shutout streak at over 100 minutes.
Hinostroza opened up the scoring 5:21 into the game with his 17th of the season, assisted by Kero and Kiril Gotovets.
Jonathan Carlsson scored his second of the campaign 12:57 of the first, assisted by Hinostroza and Robin Norell, who earned his second professional point.
McNeill closed the first period scoring with a power play marker at 15:06. Giving Rockford a commanding 3-0 lead while holding a 12-6 shots on goal advantage.
Chris DeSousa finished his first professional season with seven goals, scoring his final marker at 10:23 of the second frame. The goal, a cleanup from a Tyler Motte shot, put Rockford ahead 4-0.
Rockford continued to pour it on in the third with two goals in a span of 10 seconds.
Ryan Hartman tallied the first at 3:21 and McNeill earned his second of the game at 3:31.
Max Gortz broke Carruth’s bid for a shutout with 13:01 remaining to play to cut the score to 6-1.
Rockford would reclaim that six-goal lead when Hinostroza finished off the scoring with a power play tally at 17:37, sealing a commanding 7-1 win, and giving Rockford the edge in the season series against Milwaukee, 6-2-3-1.
The win by Rockford also moved them ahead of the Grand Rapids Griffins, giving them third place in the standings. With that win, Rockford will now face the Lake Erie Monsters in the first round, with games one and two taking place at the BMO Harris Bank Center, and games three through five, if needed, at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio.
Game one will take place at the BMO in Rockford tonight with game two taking place tomorrow night.
The series will shift to Lake Erie where the series winner will eventually be crowned. Game three is on Saturday with games four and five, if necessary, taking place next Monday and Thursday.
The season series between Rockford and Lake Erie had the home team winning every game – Rockford won the first meeting back on Sunday, November 22, 3-1. Rockford held a 1-0 lead into the third period, and Jake Dowell scored shorthanded early in the third to go up 2-0. Lake Erie cut the lead in half a few minutes later, and Hartman scored an empty net goal to seal the win.
Rockford won the next game on January 18 by another 3-1 margin. Once again, Rockford held the Monsters scoreless until the third period, and sealed the game with an empty net tally.
February 26 and 27, Lake Erie won both games – a 5-4 win on the February 26 and an overtime win the following night, 3-2.
A few days later, Rockford won two straight on March 5 and 6, 5-0 and 2-1.
The Monsters won the last two of the series, 4-2 and 5-1 back on march 24 and March 25, to keep the season series even, both with Rockford earning one more point due to the overtime loss.
For stats, the Monsters will come into the first round with the 17th ranked power play unit, compared to Rockford’s 27th ranked unit. The penalty kill has Lake Erie fifth and Rockford ranked 18th.
It appears Rockford is mostly health, as Hartman and Gotovets returned to the lineup for Rockford, although it appears P.C. Labrie will miss the start of the playoffs with a lower body injury.