After dropping 9 of 12 home games dating back to mid-January, the Rockford IceHogs 4-3 overtime victory on Friday night gave the team something it hasn’t had all season – a 3-game home winning streak.
Friday’s win over the Hamilton Bulldogs also put the IceHogs within one game of the .500 mark in their own barn (16-17-2-2), and two wins short of an overall .500 record (30-32-4-5).
The IceHogs haven’t had a losing home record since entering the AHL in 2007. Including Saturday night’s contest, they have three dates remaining on the home slate, wrapping on April 8 & 9. Rockford will finish their 2010-11 season at Allstate Arena against the Chicago Wolves on Sunday April 10 at 3 o’clock.
Rockford will first try for home victory number 17 on Saturday night when they host the Milwaukee Admirals. The Admirals defeated Chicago in Milwaukee on Friday 4-2. With the win, the Admirals stayed one point ahead of the Houston Aeros for the top spot in the West division and best record in the Western conference.
On Friday, the IceHogs persevered just enough through a tough third period to have a little Jeff Taffe magic lift them to victory in OT.
Hannu Toivonen got the call again after a stellar 39 save performance in his team’s 5-1 win over San Antonio on Wednesday. Toivonen was good again on Friday, stopping twenty-eight Hamilton shots. The Bulldogs three goals came through screens and quirky redirections.
Rockford’s offense was led early by some dominating play and energy from the Evan Brophey-Kyle Hagel-Igor Makarov line. Since being put together a few games back, it has been the defacto second line by merit.
Hamilton came in desperately needing to pick up two points, mixed up in a four-way battle for what could amount to the third and last playoff spot in the North Division. Just in time for Friday’s battle, the Bulldogs got their top line of Andrea Engqvist, Aaron Palushaj and Nigel Dawes back from Montreal where they were on recall. Dawes already had scored six goals this season when facing Rockford coming into the game.
The Bulldogs struck first when Neil Petruic fired a shot underneath a Kyle Hagel shot-block attempt to beat Hannu Toivonen inside the near post with traffic in front. Hamilton’s captain, defenseman Alex Henry and center Olivier Fortier assisted on the goal.
Rockford tied the game when Evan Brophey jumped over the boards on a delayed change. Brophey accepted a stretch pass from Brian Connelly and quickly dished it to Igor Makarov skating up the right wing boards. Makarov cut to the middle and drop passed to Kyle Hagel who shot the puck goal line extended and Makarov dove in to chip the puck over the goal line. The goal may have been Hagel’s anyway, but it was officially awarded to Makarov and he deserves credit for the hustle in attacking the net.
Rob Klinkhammer would give Rockford a 2-1 lead in the waning minutes of the middle period. Klinkhammer had trouble corralling the puck after a Jeff Taffe pass across the slot, but caught the handle and fired a wrister to the far side to beat Hamilton goalie Drew MacIntrye. The fumbled pass definitely threw MacIntrye off as he over-committed to his left, allowing Klinkhammer half the net to shoot at. The goal was Klinkhammer’s thirteenth, two shy of his career-high fifteen, set back in his 2008-09 rookie season.
That score sent the Hogs into the second intermission up 2-1. Coming into the game, Hamilton was 4-15-1-1 when trailing after two periods. Rockford came in 16-1-1-2 when leading after forty minutes.
Shots heading into the third were tied 23-23 and the play largely reflected it.
The third period started auspiciously for Rockford. Wade Brookbank was called for slashing 2:49 into the frame, giving the Bulldogs an early opportunity to trim the Hogs’ lead. However, the Rockford Penalty Kill continued its recent hold on the opposition by killing off a Hamilton power play unit that came into the game ranked #8 in the AHL at 19.4%.
An Evan Brophey slashing penalty less than three minutes later would again test the Hogs’ PK, this time without Brophey, one-quarter of the team’s top penalty-kill unit.
Trouble would begin seconds after Brophey’s minor expired when he stepped out of the box. A pass through the neutral zone to Hamilton forward Hunter Bishop on the penalty box side put Bishop squarely in Brophey’s sights.
Brophey lowered the boom on Bishop, connecting with Bishop’s head and sending the 6-foot 196 pound Alaska native spinning to the ice where he’s stay, unconscious for a few minutes.
Referee Ghislain Herbert served Brophey with a five-minute major for Checking to the Head and a game misconduct. The check was similar to the one Joe Thornton put on St. Louis’s David Perron earlier in the season. Though Brophey definitely put more weight into his check and overshot his target, connecting flush on Bishop’s head. Hunter Bishop would remain on the ice knocked out for a few minutes before being helped off by teammates and the team’s trainer.
After play resumed, the Hogs’ penalty kill hung tough for the initial three minutes of the major. Then they caught a break when a hard checking Igor Makarov was tripped up by Brandon Nash in the Bulldogs’ zone after a Makarov steal. Nash was called for slashing and his penalty negated all but the final six seconds of Brophey’s major.
However, Hamilton would strike during the 4-on-4 when Nigel Dawes potted his thirty-fourth of the season, and seventh vs the IceHogs, on a redirection to cut Rockford’s lead in half.
43 seconds later Swedish center Andreas Engqvist sniped another past Hannu Toivonen to tie the game 3-3.
The game would head to overtime where Jeff Taffe secured a pass from Pete Leblanc while driving down the slot, held off the Hamilton defender and slipped a puck under Drew MacIntyre on his backhand at 1:46 of the extra session.
This win gives Rockford their first 3-game home winning streak of the season. They’re now 16-17-2-2 at home with three games remaining on the schedule at the MetroCentre. The first of those three being Saturday night when the Milwaukee Admirals visit Rockford.
Rockford will continue a tough 4 games in 5 days stretch on Sunday when they travel down Interstate 90 to meet division rival Chicago Wolves.
IceHogs lines and defense combos on Friday night:
Kyle Hagel – Evan Brophey – Igor Makarov
Mathis Olimb – Pete Leblanc – Ben Smith
Wade Brookbank – Brandon Bollig – (x)
Jassen Cullimore – Ivan Vishnevskiy
Ryan Stanton – Brian Connelly
Garnet Exelby – Shawn Lalonde
Scratches: Kyle Beach (nagging undisclosed injury) …. Zach Torquato…. Jeremy Morin (upper body)….
— Pirri didn’t play much in the third period. Coach’s decision. Pete Leblanc bumped up to the Taffe line. Pirri doesn’t kill penalties so with the two early minors, then the Brophey major, Bill Peters seemed to like the momentum his penalty killers were mounting and he kept with them the rest of the way. However, no question Pirri losing his top line spot to Pete Leblanc, even for a period, indicates the coach not happy with Pirri’s Friday performance.
— The 7 defenseman layout was in place for the fourth straight game. Recently, it’s been Olsen losing out for the most part 5-on-5. Bill Peters is using Olsen on the second PK unit right now. Olsen’s looked good there. It appears conserving Olsen’s minutes at this stage is a positive. He’s played in 33 games now since turning pro and debuting on January 14 vs Texas. Up to then, Olsen had played in 24 games (UMD + Canada U20’s) over three and a half months.
— Rockford had dropped five of six home games prior to this current 3-game home winning streak. The key to these three wins is the PK, 14 for 15. On the flip, the power play is 2 for 8. In the six games prior to the past three, the PK had surrendered 9 power play goals to the opposition on 22 chances (59.1%) and the power play was working pretty well too, 5 for 23 (21.7%).
— Beach missed his second-consecutive game. Bill Peters confirmed after the game that Beach is struggling through a minor injury. No word on whether its related to the injury that kept Beach out of the lineup for a couple of games two weeks back.
— Hamilton’s Andreas Engqvist, 23, was a teammate of new Blackhawks’ center Marcus Kruger last season. Both played for Djurgardens in Stockholm. In 2009-10, Engqvist posted 14 goals and 26 points in 55 games. Kruger played in less games, 38 (due to international competition), but still managed more points with 11 goals and 20 assists. Engqvist is a big center (6-3, 200) who has been up with the Canadiens for three games this season (0pts). On Friday he also assisted on Dawes’ goal.
— Recent Montreal Canadiens’ signing D-Joe Stejskal did not play. He signed with the Habs on March 22nd after completing his senior season at Dartmouth College. Friday was Hamilton’s first game since two last weekend out west in Abbotsford.
— Rockford has yet to lose in regulation when they score 4 or more goals: 13-0-2-0
— The IceHogs will break their franchise attendance record on Saturday night. The standing record was set last season. The 661-st person to walk through the turnstiles on Saturday will break the previous mark of 159,132. Since joining the AHL, Rockford’s attendance has grown each season. Averages from ’07-08 to ’09-10 went… 3,826 to 3,909 to 3,978. This season the IceHogs are averaging 4,283 fans per game, an increase of 7.7%.
— Brophey will be suspended. It’s not a matter of ‘if,’ but how long? We noted this hit was similar in nature (and location) to Joe Thornton’s hit on David Perron in St. Louis on November 4, 2010. Thornton, the next day was suspended by the NHL for two games. Thornton had also just stepped out of the penalty box. Brophey will likely receive at least as many since he made direct contact with the head and took two steps into the hit. Thornton was more guilty of not avoiding contact with Perron, whereas in this case Brophey went looking for it.
— We’ll have more on Brophey and the hit later.