By Jim Hagerty
ROCKFORD — The Rockford IceHogs moved one game closer to another series sweep Wednesday by knocking off the Manitoba Moose 4-1 at the BMO Harris Bank Center in Game 3 of the AHL Western Conference Semifinals.
After a scoreless first period, Manitoba’s Julian Melchiori wasted not time getting his club on the board when he beat Collin Delia just 1:19 into the second. Five minutes later Rockford forward Tyler Sikura responded on the power play, banging an Adam Clendening rebound home as he crashed the Moose cage. Red-hot rookie Victor Ejdsell doubled Rockford’s lead a minute after that to cap a nifty setup by Matthew Highmore and Luke Johnson. Ejdsell’s wrist shot from the right circle gives him four goals and two assists in five playoff games.
The IceHogs are now a perfect 6-0 in postseason play, one win shy of advancing to the Western Conference Finals. The six-game streak ties a franchise record set during their 2007 UHL Championship run.
With six starts, Delia leads the AHL with a .953 save percentage and ranks second with a 1.52 GAA in that span. He’s now tied with Frederic Cloutier’s franchise record for most consecutive playoff wins by a goalie, also set in 2007.
“We know if we play the right way, we’re going to get chances,” Sikura said. “And we have depth and skill.”
The right way for the IceHogs has been playing with an infectious energy that can be hard to defend, but also runs the risk of spinning out of control. For coach Jeremy Colliton, Wednesday’s work of the Moose really fell into place after he reminded his players to properly channel the energy in order to gain and keep control of the contest.
“Overall, we were a little bit out of control with our puck play and we had some problems sorting defensively because we’re so amped up,” Colliton said. “But I thought we got under control as the game went on. I think the Sikura goal came at a very important time. We found ourselves back in the game and we took over.”
The teams played a tight contest until 13:52 of the final frame, when William Pelletier netted an insurance marker to give the Hogs a 3-1 lead. Anthony Louis carried the puck behind the net and fed a pass against the grain to an awaiting Pelletier, who had an open net. Matthew Highmore added an empty-netter to seal Rockford’s win.
The IceHogs have their first chance to punch their ticket to the conference finals Friday at the BMO Harris Bank Center. If necessary, Game 5 will be played in Rockford Saturday. The series would then shift to Manitoba for the final two contests. R.