By Chris Block
One night after picking up a huge 7-3 victory over the Chicago Wolves in their regular season home finale, the Rockford IceHogs hit the road, again set out to keep their AHL postseason bid alive in a crucial divisional matchup with the 8th place Milwaukee Admirals.
Rockford came into Saturday’s contest in 9th place in the Western Conference, tied at 81 in points with Milwaukee, though the Admirals hold two games in hand over the IceHogs heading into the final week of the regular season.
On the heels of Brandon Pirri’s franchise record 6-point (1 goal, 5 assists) night and Ben Smith’s hat-trick in the win over the Wolves, the IceHogs had to beat the Admirals on Saturday if they had any hopes of sneaking into the postseason.
Backed by a 20 save performance by Carter Hutton and goals by Adam Clendening, Ben Smith and Klas Dahlbeck, Rockford did just that, defeating the Admirals 3-1 on Saturday before a crowd of 8,895 fans at the BMO Harris Bradley Center in Milwaukee.
Hutton was in goal for the Hogs in Friday’s wild offensive charged win over Chicago when he stopped 34 of the 37 shots the Wolves offered. On this night, Hutton continued his dominance of the Milwaukee Admirals, improving his career record to 13-3-1-0 with a 93.8% save percentage and a goals against average of 1.89 lifetime versus Milwaukee.
Smith’s power play goal at 14:08 of the second period stood as the game-winner. He was set up by a Jeremy Morin feed from behind Milwaukee’s net. The puck came out to Smith at the front of Admirals’ goaltender Magnus Hellberg’s crease, and Smith won a mad scramble for the loose puck with Hellberg caught out of position. Brandon Pirri, now the AHL’s scoring leader, picked up his 49th assist of the season as well.
Dahlbeck’s goal, at 12:47 of the third period, all but sealed the IceHogs victory in giving Rockford a commanding 3-0 lead with seven minutes to go in regulation. The goal was Dahlbeck’s first of the season and first in his AHL career. He played in his 68th game of the season on Saturday.
Milwaukee spoiled Carter Hutton’s shutout bid with five minutes remaining in the 3rd when Jusso Puustinen posted his 15th tally of the season for Milwaukee to trim the IceHogs lead to 3-1 and give the Admirals some late life. But that’s how the score stayed and the IceHogs prevailed, picking up their 40th win of the season.
The game started off a little sluggish as both teams failed to capitalize on power play opportunities in the opening stanza.
After a scoreless first period, Adam Clendening got Rockford on the board at 3:14 of the second period when his wrist shot from the right point somehow snuck by Hellberg to give the ‘Hogs a 1-0 lead. Newcomer Maxime Sauve and Rostislav Olesz picked up the assists. It was Sauve’s first point as a member of the IceHogs, coming in his sixth game since coming over from the Bruins’ organization in the Rob Flick trade.
The goal was Clendening’s 8th of the season and 6th coming via the power play. Milwaukee took another penalty to put the IceHogs back on the man advantage just 31 seconds after Clendening’s tally when Joshua Shalla bumped Carter Hutton but Rockford failed to cash in on that power play chance.
Rockford’s power play went 2 for 10 on the night. The IceHogs power play had failed to score in the past 5 meetings with Milwaukee (0-16). In the past 10 games, Rockford’s power play has gone 5-42 (11.9%).
On the flip side, the IceHogs penalty kill has been solid over their past five games, killing 22 of the last 24 power plays against (91.7%).
Rockford closes the season series against Milwaukee with a 7-4-1-0 record. The goal differential in the series 33-27. Seven of the twelve games were decided by one goal and two games were decided in overtime.
Hutton has now won his last three starts since being pulled in the 7-3 March 30th loss to Oklahoma City which may, in the end, prove to be the IceHogs undoing. But you could also throw Wednesday’s 4-0 loss at Peoria into that boat.
Rockford is now off until next weekend when they’ll complete their regular season with two games in Texas. On Friday, the IceHogs will visit San Antonio, who are currently 14th in the West. Then Rockford will close out the 2012-13 regular season when they visit the Western Conference’s top seeded Texas Stars.
If the IceHogs are to make the playoffs they’ll have to win those two games and probably get some help from the opponents facing Chicago and Milwaukee.
While the IceHogs currently sit in the 8th spot in the West with 83 points, two points ahead of both the Wolves and Admirals, each of those two teams will play four more games to Rockford’s two.
Milwaukee and Chicago will play each other two times during the final week of the season, Tuesday in Milwaukee and on Saturday at Allstate Arena in Rosemont. Milwaukee will also host Charlotte and close out the season in Peoria next Sunday. The Wolves will visit Lake Erie on Friday and close their schedule on Sunday by hosting Grand Rapids.
Best case scenario for the IceHogs would be for Milwaukee and Chicago to trade regulation wins in their two head-to-head matchups while faltering in their other games. But the IceHogs still must take care of their own business.
-The IceHogs are now 6-1 in April. The only loss being that 4-0 loss at Peoria on Wednesday, also Brandon Pirri’s 22nd birthday.
-Garret Ross made is professional debut in Saturday’s game at Milwaukee. He gave a solid effort in his first showing. His one shot on goal was a long one off the half wall but he fit in nicely on a line with Joakim Nordstrom and Kyle Beach.
-Carter Hutton started his 51st game of the season and 91st overall in an IceHogs sweater on Saturday. Hutton is now 26-21-1-1 on the season. His 90.8% save percentage and 2.72 GAA are drops from the 2011-12 form (91.7% 2.35GAA) that earned him an NHL contract with the Blackhawks but he’s putting forth great outings now when the IceHogs need their goalies to step up.
-Garret Ross had an eventful first professional shift. After making his presence known with a big hit, Ross lined up for a faceoff in the Admirals zone, opposite Milwaukee winger Michael Liambas. Ross wanted to challenge Liambas to a fight, but Ross jumped the gun prematurely as he dropped his gloves prior to the linesman dropping the puck for the faceoff. Ross wasn’t penalized and he put his gloves back on and again lined up facing Liambas. The two traded verbal jabs and this time both ditched their gloves as the puck was dropped. Liambas immediately dropped Ross with a right hand. Ross got back to his feet and got a few jabs in of his own but ate some more shots as well. When the two were separated Ross was bleeding heavily and went to the IceHogs locker room for repairs. Liambas’ jersey was covered in Ross’s blood too. When Liambas returned he was wearing a different jersey (and number, no nameplate). His original jersey was obviously washed and he had it back on for the third period. Shaw returned to the IceHogs bench just as his five minute fighting major had expired.
-Brandon Pirri set Rockford IceHogs AHL franchise records for points (6) and assists (5) in a single game with his performance in Friday night’s 7-3 win over the Wolves.
-Shawn Lalonde also set an IceHogs AHL franchise record for best plus/minus rating in a single game on Friday night with a plus-6 rating against the Wolves.
-The 58 shots on goal against the Wolves set the Rockford IceHogs all-time (AHL and UHL) record for most shots on goal for in a single game. The previous AHL record was 49 in a 5-2 loss at Peoria on December 11, 2011.
-Pirri entered Friday’s game trailing the AHL scoring leader, former IceHogs skater Jeff Taffe, by a single point. Pirri’s record-setting (it also set the AHL 2012-13 season mark for points in a game) six point performance propelled Pirri into the AHL scoring lead.
-At the end of Saturday’s action, Pirri still sits five points above Taffe as the AHL’s top scorer with 21 goals, 49 assists in 74 games played. No IceHogs player has ever finished a season as the AHL scoring leader. In the Rockford’s first season in the league in 2007-08, Martin St. Pierre (21g 67a = 88pts) finished second behind the Chicago Wolves’ Jason Krog (39g 73a = 112pts).
Pirri is two goals shy of the 23 he posted last season. His 49 assists shatter his previous career best of 33, set last season.
Rockford IceHogs lineup, lines and scratches Saturday in Milwaukee
39-Martin St. Pierre / 17-Jimmy Hayes / 19-Jeremy Morin
85-Rostislav Olesz / 27-Brandon Pirri / 36-Brad Mills
11-Maxime Sauve / 7-Brandon Svendsen / 21-Ben Smith
26-Garret Ross / 32-Joakim Nordstrom / 12-Kyle Beach
4-Ryan Stanton / 2-Adam Clendening
10-Klas Dahlbeck / 8-Steve Montador
6-Joe Lavin / 9-Shawn Lalonde
30-Carter Hutton [starter]
1-Henrik Karlsson [backup]
Scratches: D-3-Dylan Olsen (left foot)… LW-15-Wade Brookbank… RW-22-Mathieu Beaudoin… LW-25-Kenndal McArdle… RW-28-Mark McNeill… C-29-Phillip Danault… RW-37-Terry Broadhurst…
Power play I: Sauve-Hayes-Olesz w/ St.Pierre and Clendening
Power play II: Mills-Smith-Morin w/Pirri and Lalonde
PK forwards: Mills-Svendsen, Pirri-Smith, Hayes-Nordstrom (pairings differed)
PK defense: Stanton-Lalonde, Dahlbeck-Montador
Other lineup notes:
-Ben Youds was reassigned to the Toledo Walleye on Saturday morning. Toledo is currently competing in the first round of the ECHL playoffs against Cincinnati. Youds made it to Cincinnati in time to play for the Walleye in game 5 of that series on Saturday. He was held off the scoresheet but was a plus-1 in Toledo’s 3-1 victory.
-Phillip Danault participated in the warmup skate but then was scratched.