On Friday night, the Rockford IceHogs and Manitoba Moose opened their Calder Cup Playoffs Western Conference Semi-Finals series in Winnipeg, Manitoba. This series is the first in the postseason between the two clubs in AHL history with Rockford making just their second-ever appearance in the second round of the Calder Cup Playoffs. Rockford would use two powerplay goals to spark a third period blitz and take a 4-2 win over the Moose and a 1-0 series lead.
Game One: Rockford IceHogs def. Manitoba Moose, 4-2
The IceHogs turned to Collin Delia in net after his stellar performance in the opening round series against the Chicago Wolves. Delia posted a 3-0-0 record with a 1.51 GAA, and a .949 save-percentage in the first round against the Wolves and will need to continue that level of play if Rockford is to advance to their first ever Calder Cup Playoffs Western Conference Finals. Opposite Delia would be Eric Comrie for Manitoba. Comrie led the Moose to a 3-2 series win against the Grand Rapids Griffins in Round One, posting a 3.12 GAA and a .911 save-percentage over the five-game series.
In the first period, the IceHogs and Moose went through an extended feeling-out period as Game One marked just the fifth game between the teams this year (Regular season and postseason combined). Compared to both teams’ first round series, the IceHogs had seen the Wolves 12 times before Game One, while the Moose had faced the Grand Rapids Griffins eight times before their opening Game One.
While Rockford had the advantage in scoring chances early on, it would be Manitoba’s Buddy Robinson who would break the scoreless tie with just over three minutes remaining in the period. A bouncing puck setup the chance for Robinson as he buried his first goal of the Calder Cup Playoffs. Delia did his best to keep Manitoba off the board in the opening frame, and made a number of high-quality saves that kept Manitoba from breaking the game wide open early on.
In the second period, the IceHogs and Moose would trade powerplay opportunities but nothing would come from either chance. It wouldn’t be until just past the mid-way point of the contest that Rockford would finally get on the board. Matthew Highmore found Victor Ejdsell open and he would put a backhand shot by Comrie and tie the game at 1-1. Ejdsell, the triple-overtime hero from Game Three against the Wolves scored his third goal in his last two games and knotted the game up in the middle frame.
Rockford would start the third period on the powerplay thanks to a late second period Brendan Lemieux penalty, but the Moose would be able to kill it off. Just over a minute later, the IceHogs would have a third chance on the powerplay and three times would be a charm as Tyler Sikura would tip-in a Chris DiDomenico shot and put Rockford ahead 2-1. Sikura’s second goal of the Calder Cup Playoffs was barely out of the net (not really) before the IceHogs struck a second time in under a minute as John Hayden would bury a one-timer behind Comrie and put the Rockford ahead 3-1 early in the third period. Hayden’s first goal of the playoffs came just 45 seconds after Sikura’s and Rockford was in full control of Game One at that point.
The IceHogs would hunker-down and hold their 3-1 lead until the Moose pulled Comrie with just a minute to play and Cody Franson would add one on an empty-net powerplay goal to make it 4-1. Franson’s goal extends his current point-streak to eight games with 13 points (5G, 8A) over that span. The Moose would add a second goal with under 30 seconds to play but it wouldn’t be enough as Rockford would come away 4-2 winners.
A valuable win on the road in the Calder Cup Playoffs is one thing, to get in the win column in Game One is icing on the Rockford cake heading into Game Two on Saturday. Delia finished the game with 24 saves on 26 shots faced and improved to 4-0-0 in his first taste of professional playoff hockey so far this postseason. Undefeated in the postseason, Rockford’s powerplay continues to be their driving force, a staggering 9/24 (37.5%) through the first four games of the Calder Cup Playoffs.
Here is the full schedule for the Calder Cup Western Conference Semi-Finals Best-of-Seven series between Rockford and Manitoba:
- Game One: Rockford IceHogs def. Manitoba Moose, 4-2 (RFD leads series 1-0)
- Game Two: Saturday, May 5 at Bell MTS Place, 4pm
- Game Three: Wednesday, May 9 at BMO Harris Bank Center (Rockford, Illinois), 7pm
- Game Four: Friday, May 11 at BMO Harris Bank Center, 7pm
- * Game Five: Saturday, May 12 at BMO Harris Bank Center, 6pm (* If Necessary)
- * Game Six: Tuesday, May 15 at Bell MTS Place, 7pm (* If Necessary)
- * Game Seven: Wednesday, May 16 at Bell MTS Place, 7pm (* If Necessary)
The winner of the IceHogs and Moose series will face the winner of the Tucson Road Runners and Texas Stars Western Conference Semi-Finals series. The IceHogs have never advanced to the Western Conference Finals in their AHL Franchise history.