IceHogs drop Game 3, face elimination in conference finals
By Jim Hagerty
ROCKFORD — Curtis McKenzie lit the lamp with his second consecutive game-winning goal to help the Texas Stars battle past the Rockford IceHogs 6-5 in overtime and capture Game 3 of the AHL Western Conference Finals here Tuesday.
McKenzie’s goal came after Cody Franson found the equalizer for Rockford with less than a minute left in regulation. Franson’s goal provided a roaring boost of energy for the BMO Harris Bank Center crowd that was all but silenced when Texas went ahead 5-4 late in the third.
Fans became even more restless when they, along with several Rockford players, wanted officials to call a too-many-men-on-the-ice penalty that would have nullified the Texas goal at 5:12 of the extra period. It was not to be, however. The tally sent the IceHogs angrily into their dressing room on the losing end of a hard-fought contest.
“We were pretty good for a lot of the game,” coach Jeremy Colliton said. “We played hard and controlled large portions of the game. We just couldn’t find a way to get it done, couldn’t find a way to close it out in the third.”
It was a seesaw affair from the opening faceoff. The Stars and ‘Hogs combined for five goals in the first period. Tyler Sikura drew first blood, slicing through the Texas defense and beating Mike McKenna glove side.
McKenize answered with his first of the night to level the score and send a hush over the arena. The crowd didn’t stay silent for long though. John Hayden quickly gave Rockford the 2-1 advantage moments after the Stars goal was announced. But Texas refused to let up, scoring twice to ride a 3-2 lead into the second period.
It was Rockford’s turn to be pesky in the middle frame. Gustav Forsling and Luke Johnson made it 4-3 ‘Hogs, but it was a bulge they couldn’t improve by another goal, something Colliton said would have helped stop the Stars’ momentum in the third.
“We couldn’t find that two-goal lead that would’ve hopefully ended it.” he said.
Instead, Texas notched a pair, forcing Rockford to pull Collin Delia for an extra attacker in the waning minutes. The decision paid off when Franson kept the IceHogs alive until the OT spoiler put them on the brink of being denied their first trip to the Calder Cup Finals.
Although he wasn’t completely satisfied with how his club played in overtime, Colliton said the way the IceHogs have battled in the series is far from indicative of the 3-0 Stars advantage.
“We’ll try to prolong (the series),” he said. “If we do that, it gives us the opportunity to show our quality.”
Game 4 is 7 p.m.,Thursday, at the BMO Harris Bank Center. If necessary, the ‘Hogs will host the Stars Friday for Game 5 before the series heads back to Texas. R.