The Rockford IceHogs lost total control of their Calder Cup Playoff destinies over the weekend, splitting a weekend series against the Texas Stars with a regulation loss on Friday night and a shootout win on Saturday. Now, with just three games remaining, and a maximum of 84 points possible in the Central Division standings, the IceHogs find themselves in a “do or die” situation where every point matters, and only regulations wins will be acceptable.
IceHogs split weekend series against Stars
Rockford came into Texas with the ability to control their destiny and path into the Calder Cup Playoffs, were they to win both games in regulation. They did not win either game in regulation, instead dropping a 2–1 regulation loss to the Stars on Friday night, followed by a 4–3 shootout win on Saturday night. Texas holds their position over the IceHogs after the weekend mini-series, having a two-point cushion over the IceHogs and being just one point behind the Iowa Wild and Manitoba Moose in the standings.
On Friday, the IceHogs fell behind the Stars in the first period as Brad McClure was able to get Texas on the board first with his eighth goal of the season. Collin Delia made 10 saves in the opening period and followed that up with a perfect middle frame to enter the third period with 19 saves on 20 shots, continuing to keep the IceHogs alive in the contest. Just over seven minutes into the third period, Rockford was able to level the score with a goal from Peter Holland. His 26th goal of the season and sixth since joining the IceHogs was the break that Rockford needed to keep their head above water. But, at the 7:09 mark of the third period, the IceHogs surrendered a penalty shot after Ty Dellandrea picked up a loose puck and went off to the races. Henri Jokiharju slashed Dellandrea on his breakaway attempt and the referee awarded the penalty shot. Dellandrea went high glove-side on Delia to take a 2–1 lead in the third period and Texas held on for the win.
Delia finished with 26 saves on 28 shots, seeing his record fall to 12–8–4, with a 2.47 goals against average and a 0.924 save percentage. Delia’s save percentage still leads the AHL among qualified goalies. The loss was the 19th this season in which Rockford allowed two or fewer goals.
Needing a rebound to keep their postseason hopes alive, the IceHogs bounced back on Saturday to top the Stars in a shootout behind Anton Forsberg‘s 32-save performance. Rockford got on the board first thanks to Luke Johnson‘s 16th goal of the season just under four minutes into the opening period. Johnson is one point behind matching his career-high total for an AHL season, doing so with playing nearly 20 fewer games this year than in years past. Just over seven minutes later, the Stars tied the game on Joel L’Esperance‘s 30th goal of the year to take the 1–1 game into the second period.
In the middle frame, the Stars and IceHogs scored just 36 seconds apart before the five-minute mark of the period. Nicholas Caamano gave Texas the 2–1 lead, but Holland scored his 17th goal of the season, his seventh since joining Rockford, to tie the game at 2–2 in the second period. The score would remain the same until the midway point of the third period when Texas would retake the lead on Rhett Gardner‘s second goal of the season. Reaching a desperation point in the final period, the IceHogs were able to tie the game at 3–3 with just over five minutes to play thanks to Tyler Sikura‘s seventh goal of the year. Hindered by injury this season, Sikura has seen his production drop from last year’s 23-goal, 39-point pace, but has stepped up recently with three points in his last five contests.
— AHL (@TheAHL) April 7, 2019
With no breakthrough found in the overtime period, the IceHogs and Stars went to the shootout. Colton Hargrove put the Stars on the board in the first round, but it was Holland getting the IceHogs a potential season-saving shootout goal in the third round to extend the contest. Forsberg was able to stop Joel Hanley and Erik Condra, setting the table for Jacob Nilsson to bury the shootout-winning goal in his first attempt this season. Forsberg saw his record this season improve to 15–14–2 with a 2.63 goals against average and a 0.920 save percentage. Forsberg’s 0.920 save percentage ranks fourth in the AHL among qualified goalies.
Rockford’s record this season, when scoring three or more goals, is a staggering 29–2–2. The IceHogs have the lowest-scoring offense in the AHL with 178 goals for this season, averaging out to 2.44 goals per game. It is mind-blowing to see that in 33 games where the IceHogs score at least three goals, they have only come away with no points twice.
As it has been all season long for the IceHogs, the defense and goaltending has been rock-solid, yet the offense will be the make or break in their final three games of the regular season.
Calder Cup Playoff Race
While the IceHogs will need some help, the Calder Cup Playoffs are not out of their reach. With each team in the division having three games left to play, here are the Central Division standings heading into the final week of the AHL regular season.
- x- Chicago Wolves (73 games played) – 43–21–9 – 95 points (at Iowa, vs. Manitoba, vs. Manitoba)
- Grand Rapids Griffins (73 games played) – 38–24–11 – 87 points (vs. Iowa, vs. Manitoba, at Milwaukee)
- Milwaukee Admirals (73 games played) – 34–24–15 – 83 points (vs. Rockford, vs. Grand Rapids, at Rockford)
- Manitoba Moose (73 games played) – 37–29–7 – 81 points (at Grand Rapids, at Chicago, at Chicago)
- Iowa Wild (73 games played) – 34–26–13 – 81 points (at Grand Rapids, vs. Chicago, vs. Rockford)
- Texas Stars (73 games played) – 36–29–8 – 80 pts (vs. San Antonio, at San Antonio, vs. San Antonio)
- Rockford IceHogs (73 games played) – 34–29–10 – 78 pts (at Milwaukee, at Iowa, vs. Milwaukee)
- e – San Antonio Rampage (73 games played) – 29–37–7 – 65 pts (at Texas, vs. Texas, at Texas)
x = Clinched Playoff Spot
e = Eliminated From Playoff Spot
The IceHogs will need help from teams like Chicago, Grand Rapids and San Antonio to take points away from Manitoba, Texas, Iowa and Milwaukee in the games that are not in Rockford’s control. With a maximum of 84 points to close out the season, the IceHogs only have about two points to spare among the four teams within striking distance of Rockford.
The Rockford IceHogs are back in action on Tuesday night as they take on the Milwaukee Admirals on the road. The IceHogs return familiar territory in the Midwest and travel for the 11th of 12 matchups between them and the Admirals. Puck drop at the UW-Panther Arena in Milwaukee is set for 7 p.m. Central time. Rockford holds a 4–5–1 record against Milwaukee in 10 previous meetings this season, having lost their last three meetings in regulation.