05/17/2018 11:00 AM
Article By: Chris Robinson
ROCKFORD, Ill. – The Rockford IceHogs swept their opponent for the second straight playoff series to post a perfect 7-0 clip through the first two rounds of the Calder Cup playoffs. After dispatching the top-seeded Chicago Wolves in three games during the opening round, the Hogs stormed through the Central Division Finals to sweep the three-seed Manitoba Moose in four contests and reach the Western Conference Finals for the first time in team history.
Of the 80 teams in the Calder Cup playoffs since 2014, only the IceHogs and 2014 Toronto Marlies have begun the postseason with seven consecutive wins. The Marlies began the 2014 playoffs with a record of 8-0, but snapped the streak and were ultimately eliminated in the Conference Finals by Rockford’s current opponent, Texas.
The IceHogs have scored more than half of their 29 total goals while on the power play in the postseason. Rockford is 15-for-40 on the man-advantage to lead the AHL in both power-play percentage and total power-play goals. The Hogs’ 15 markers on the man-advantage are five more than the next-closest team in the Marlies, who have played in two more games than the IceHogs.
The trio of Adam Clendening, Chris DiDomenico and Cody Franson has spearheaded Rockford’s success on the power play, combining for 25 power-play points in just seven postseason contests. Each of the three players are ranked among the AHL’s top three power-play scorers, with Clendening leading the way with his league-high nine points and eight assists on the man-advantage. Veteran defenseman Franson paces the AHL with four power-play goals, and DiDomenico ranks behind only Clendening for second in the AHL in both power-play assists (6) and points (8).
Rockford’s penalty kill has been just as, if not more, impressive than the team’s power-play, effectively killing off 26 of 28 opposing power plays. The team’s 92.9 percent rating on the penalty kill is 7.2 percent better than any remaining team in the Calder Cup playoffs. The IceHogs allowed a lone power-play marker in each of the first two games against the Wolves but have since combined to kill off each of the last 24 opposing power-play opportunities.
While the specialty teams’ success has been a highlight throughout the postseason, one of the rare areas the Hogs have struggled in the playoffs is the first period. Rockford has started slow to allow the first goal of the game in five of seven playoff contests, and is currently being outscored 7-6 in the opening frame. The early deficit has forced the IceHogs to rebound and storm back over the final two periods of action, and the Hogs have responded with a 14-2 scoring edge in the middle stanza of games.
Rockford’s Western Conference Finals opponent and the Pacific Division representative, Texas, reached the third round of the playoffs with an impressive 7-2 record through the first two rounds of the postseason. The Stars took three of four games from Ontario in the opening round and four of five matchups from the top-seeded Tucson Roadrunners to advance to their showdown with the IceHogs. Texas has paced its hot start to the Calder Cup playoffs with disciplined hockey to avoid the penalty box, and opposite of Rockford’s Division-Finals opponent Manitoba, ranks atop the AHL with an average of just 8.11 penalty minutes per game.
The Stars can also attribute much of their playoff success to the lights-out play of veteran netminder Mike McKenna. The 35 year old has allowed two or fewer goals in six of his last seven games, including posting a pair of shutouts with a 47-save effort against Ontario and 27-save showing against Tucson. McKenna enters the Conference Finals ranked first in the league with 319 saves, second with a .952 save percentage and fourth with a 1.65 GAA. He has also backstopped Texas to four consecutive victories prior to Friday’s series opener at the H-E-B Center at Cedar Park.
On offense, forward Brian Flynn leads the team in scoring and ranks second in the AHL behind only Rockford’s DiDomenico with 10 points (6g, 4a) in nine postseason contests. The winger has scored four goals over his last five games and paces all AHL skaters with six total markers. Flynn also brings a solid resume of NHL experience to the Conference Finals, logging a combined 61 points with 27 goals and 34 assists in 275 career NHL games. He returned to the AHL ranks for the 2017-18 campaign and finished third among Texas skaters with 47 points (18g, 29a) in 66 AHL contests during the regular season.
The stage is set for the Stars and IceHogs to clash for the first time in the postseason with Friday’s Game 1 matchup. Rockford and Texas met four times during the regular season, with Rockford notching wins in three of those four contests. The Hogs claimed two regulation wins and a shootout victory during the regular-season series, but travel to Texas for Game 1 without a win in regulation at the H-E-B Center at Cedar Park during the 2017-18 campaign.
Next Home Game: Tuesday, May 22 vs. Texas Stars (Western Conference Finals | Game 3/Ticket H)
The Rockford IceHogs will host Game 3 (Ticket H) of their third-round 2017-18 Calder Cup playoff series against the Texas Stars on Tuesday, May 22 at 7 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at IceHogs.com, by calling (815) 968-5222 or in-person at the BMO Harris Bank Center Box Office.