By Chris Block
If the AHL playoffs were to begin this weekend, the first round would include a matchup between the Rockford IceHogs and Grand Rapids Griffins.
Those two clubs were set to face off Friday and Saturday in a home-and-home set that will be their final two meetings in the regular season.
Rockford prevailed in a roller-coaster affair on Friday night before a crowd of 5,223 at the BMO Harris Bank Center. The IceHogs topped the Midwest Division leading Griffins 5-4 behind goals from Brad Mills, Mathieu Brisebois, Brian Connelly and two from Adam Clendening.
Friday’s game got off to a clumsy beginning with the IceHogs guilty of several icings before the first scheduled television time out. Their struggles got worse after Mathieu Brisebois bumped Colin Campbell down as the two chased a loose puck in the ‘Hogs zone and was sent off for tripping.
On the ensuing face off to Jason LaBarbera’s right, Brad Mills lost the draw clean to Cory Emmerton. The puck was sent back to Nathan Paetsch at the left point, who fed it across to Ryan Sproul at the right side. Sproul’s shot was tipped by Landon Ferraro standing atop LaBarbera’s crease and snuck by the netminder’s left pad and the post just 5 seconds into the Griffins’ power play to give Grand Rapids a 1-0 lead.
62 seconds later Brian Connelly hooked David McIntyre as the Griffins’ center skated in alone on LaBarbera.
This time it took the Grand Rapids power play just 4 seconds to covert on the power play.
Cory Emmerton won another draw clean, this time from Mark McNeill. Emmerton again won it back to Paetsch at the blue line near the left wall. This time Paetsch took a look his defense partner and instead chose to throw the puck on goal himself. Landon Ferraro was there again for the redirection and the Griffins had a 2-0 lead at 8:54 of the opening frame. For Ferraro, the tallies were his 14th and 15th on the season.
IceHogs coach Ted Dent called a time out to give his players a chance to reset after the troubling start and from there Rockford dominated the opening period.
Rockford got one back with 3:04 left in the first when Pierre-Marc Bouchard set up Brad Mills from behind the Grand Rapids’ goal. Mills’ shot beat Tom McCollum to narrow the deficit to 2-1. The goal was Mills’ 7th of the season and 4th in as many games. Joakim Nordstrom picked up the secondary assist.
Shots after twenty minutes were 19-11 in Rockford’s favor.
Adam Clendening scored his first goal at home all season when his blast on an IceHogs’ power play beat McCollum at 7:31 of the second. Connelly and Bouchard assisted. Rockford got the power play chance after McCollum was penalized for delay of game.
Newcomer Mathieu Brisebois picked up his first goal as an IceHog when his blast from the top of the point blew by McCollum to give Rockford a 3-2 lead with 2:13 to go in the sandwich stanza. The Broadhurst brothers each got a helper on the tally.
Rockford seized control of the game early on in the third with two quick strikes.
Clendening snuck down into a gap in Grand Rapids’ coverage as Alex Broadhurst drove hard to the goal. With one hand on his stick, the younger Broadhurst dropped a pass back into the mid slot for Clendening to roof a snap shot past McCollum’s blocker. Mark McNeill got the second assist and the IceHogs had a 4-2 lead 2:45 into the third.
85 seconds later Brian Connelly notched his second goal since returning to the ‘Hogs. After big Grand Rapids defenseman Brennan Evans was sent off for interference after taking out Garret Ross in front of the Griffins’ bench, the Hogs’ power play gave Grand Rapids a taste of their own medicine.
Brad Mills gained a measure of revenge from the game’s first power play, beating Cory Emmerton on the face off to McCollum’s left. Mills won the draw clean back to Brian Connelly at the right point. Connelly took a couple steps off the boards and fired a slap shot into the back of the Griffins’ net, giving the IceHogs a three-goal bulge at 4:10 of the third.
From there, Rockford gave the Griffins every opportunity to get back into the game.
Alex Broadhurst was deemed guilty of roughing by referee David Banfield on the shift after Connelly’s tally. Broadhurst had simply checked a Griffin into the boards over the puck but it was called a penalty.
Grand Rapids didn’t convert on that chance but Rockford would give them others.
Klas Dahbleck was sent off for holding at 12:32. 53 seconds later, Brad Mills got caught for tripping.
With two of the ‘Hogs best penalty killers in the box, the Griffins managed to get the score back to within 2 when Andrej Nestrasil scored with 8 seconds left in the 5-on-3. Nestrasil won a face off from McNeill then floated behind the IceHogs’ forwards watching to two defense points. Adam Almquist held the puck until Nestrasil was in position at the right face off dot and then fed him for the one-timer. Nestrasil beat LaBarbera to pick up his 12th goal of the season.
The Griffins struck again on the power play with 2:12 to go in regulation after Bouchard chopped down Almquist deep in the Grand Rapids end. Just after GR pulled their goalie to create a 6-on-4 in the Rockford zone, Nestrasil struck again for his 13th tally. Nick Jensen and Almquist got the assists.
The score would stay intact from there, however, as Jordin Tootoo got a high-sticking penalty with 1:13 to go and Rockford closed out the 5-4 victory while skating with a man advantage to end the game.
All four Griffins goals came via the power play. It’s the second time this season that Rockford has allowed 4 power play goals on home ice. For the season, Rockford’s PK is running at 75.5% efficiency at the BMO Harris Bank Center.
Rockford’s power play was 2 for 3 on Friday. Of Clendening’s ten goals this season, two have come via the power play. 15 of his 42 assists have come while the Hogs have in man-advantage situations.
Jason LaBarbera stopped 23 shots in earning his 14th victory for Rockford.
The two teams rematch Saturday night in Grand Rapids. The IceHogs will then bus back to Rockford for a 4pm Sunday start with the visiting Chicago Wolves.
–Rockford IceHogs lines, pairs, specials & scratches Friday in Rockford
96-Pierre Marc-Bouchard / 23-Joakim Nordstrom / 16-Brad Mills
12-Brandon Mashinter / 14-Drew LeBlanc / 26-Garret Ross
37-Terry Broadhurst / 25-Alex Broadhurst / 28-Mark McNeill
32-Phillippe Lefebvre / 18-Phillip Danault / 29-David Gilbert
10-Klas Dahlbeck / 2-Adam Clendening
22-Theo Peckham / 11-Brian Connelly
15-Wade Brookbank / 3-Mathieu Brisebois
1-Jason LaBarbera (starter)
Scratches: D-8-Viktor Svedberg (shoulder surgery, done for season)… D-6-Jared Nightingale (2nd of 6 game suspension)… D-9-Bobby Shea (2nd of 8 game suspension)… 4-D-Trevor van Riemsdyk (ankle)… D-5-Joe Gleason…
–Grand Rapids Griffins lines versus Rockford on Friday
22-Jordin Tootoo / 18-Cory Emmerton / 6-Teemu Pelkkinen
15-Mitch Callahan / 11-Andrej Nestrasil / 27-Martin Frk
10-Jeff Hoggan / 26-David McIntyre / 29-Landon Ferraro
32-Colin Campbell / 25-Louis-Marc Aubry / 20-Gleason Fournier
4-Nathan Paetsch / 5-Adam Almquist
16-Xavier Oullet / 14-Nick Jensen
44-Brennan Evans / 7-Ryan Sproul
30-Tom McCollum (starter)
D-Marc McNulty… D-Alexey Marchenko… F-Alden Hirschfeld… D-Max Nicastro… RW-Trevor Parkes… LW-Triston Grant… C-Travis Novak…