By Chris Block
Returning home for Games 3 through 5 of their best-of-seven series down 2-0 to Grand Rapids, the Rockford IceHogs took to the ice on Wednesday night with an automatic sense of urgency in an almost must-win situation.
The IceHogs exhibited that urgency and desperation before a crowd of just 1,780 at BMO Harris Bank Center in a fiery and physical opening twenty minutes in Game 3.
That dominant first period set the table for an eventual 4-1 IceHogs victory.
Mark McNeill scored his 2nd goal of the postseason just 25 seconds into Grand Rapids’ first power play of the game, a controversial five minute major assessed midway into the first period. The breakaway goal gave the IceHogs a 1-0 lead. Rockford’s penalty kill kept a consistent pressure on the Griffins’ power play throughout the 5 minute kill and prevented the visitor’s from tying the game.
Later, when Rockford got its first chance on the power play, Ryan Hartman banked a pass to himself at the Grand Rapids blue line and strode in alone the same way McNeill had earlier and beat Griffins’ starter Tom McCollum with 1:24 to play in the opening frame. Hartman’s goal would stand as the game-winner.
“We knew this was a must win for us and we came out in the first period and were a desperate hockey team,” said goaltender Michael Leighton, who made 23 saves in Rockford’s 4-1 win in Game 3.