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And Now, A Flair For The Dramatic

03/31/2012 2:20 PM - Mike Peck
If you missed Friday’s game against Peoria at the BMO Harris Bank Center, you missed one of the most entertaining games of the season and a game that epitomizes the playoff push.

The game was up and down (which doesn’t favor Rockford), there were highlight film saves and goals, and a late IceHogs comeback in both regulation and the shootout.

A couple things happened in the final minute of regulation that typically doesn’t go Rockford’s way: Scoring a goal with the extra attacker on the ice and scoring a clutch power-play goal.

When the puck rolled over Brian Fahey’s stick and into the neutral zone with about 20-seconds left in regulation, I thought the game was over. But Fahey picked up a Peter LeBlanc rebound and notched the equalizer with 4.1 seconds left on the clock.

The shootout was about as strange and exciting as the first 65 minutes of hockey. Peoria notched goals with their first two shooters by beating Carter Hutton low glove side. And it didn’t even look close.

Rockford’s first two shooters (Philippe Paradis and Rostislav Olesz) both tried Jake Allen’s glove and he blocked them both. So naturally, the IceHogs changed their approach and the next three shooters went five hole on Allen and all three scored.

On the flipside, T.J. Hensick was Peoria’s third shooter, and instead of going back to Hutton’s low blocker side, he decided to go high glove and was denied.  After Phil McRae missed for Peoria, Anthony Nigro went with a deek attempt that Hutton got his right leg down on to win it for Rockford.

Not sure why the final three Rivermen shooters went away from the low blocker on Hutton, but Rockford’s adjustment in the shootout paid off and the IceHogs escaped with the extra point. The game felt like we got some redemption from the 7-6 overtime loss in Peoria back on Nov. 11 when McRae tallied twice in the final 90 seconds and then the Riverpeople notched the OT winner to steal the extra point.

With Kent Simpson signed, Rockford now has five players under Amateur Try Outs. Simpson joins Terry Broadhurst, Phillip Danault, Connor Goggin and Mark McNeill. If Rockford can keep in the playoff race, I wouldn’t expect much ice time (or any if you couldn’t read the sarcasm) for Simpson.

Back on March 9, I thought Rockford had to go 7-2-0-0 (or get 14 points) over their next nine games to remain in the playoff picture. Well, I’m a game late, but the team did go 7-3-0-0 over the past 10 tilts and are still in it. With seven games left, however, five or six wins are absolutely needed. The team is 12-3-0-1 over their last 16 contests going back to Feb. 24.

Ted Dent mentioned last night in our pregame show interview that the amateurs (at least the forwards) will be rotated in and out of the lineup. Last night Broadhurst and Danault were scratches and tonight they are in. McNeill is out as is Wade Brookbank, Simon Danis-Pepin and Byron Froese. Ben Smith and Paul Zanette are done for the year.

Looking forward to another intense playoff-like game tonight!

With Eight Games To Go, Still A Lot Undetermined

03/27/2012 9:48 AM - Mike Peck
On Jan. 15, a day following the IceHogs 2-1 loss in San Antonio, Rockford was last in the AHL with a record of 14-21-1-3 (32 points) and a .410 winning percentage.   At that point, the team was 11 points out of the playoffs

Since then, the team is 18-8-1-2 and is now just four points out of the eighth and final playoff spot (and technically the 6th spot.) If Rockford falls short of a playoff spot, you can point to a 1-5-1-0 stretch from Feb. 3 to Feb. 18.

The team has had four such potholes on their record this season (including 2-6-0-3, 1-4-1-0 and 0-4-0-0) and 1-5-1-0 road bump might be the most damaging.

What stings most about that seven game slump, was that the IceHogs could have won at least two, if not three of those games. On Feb. 15, the IceHogs absolutely dominated the Peoria Rivermen, outshooting them 42-13, but losing 1-0.

On Feb. 17, Rockford battled back against the Toronto Marlies in Toronto from a 3-0 deficit and had a couple of chances to win the game in regulation and overtime, but dropped a 4-3 OT decision.

And finally, the next night in Hamilton, Rockford was up 2-1 late in the third when two unlucky bounces and a meltdown flunked the IceHogs 5-2.

Instead of grabbing at least four of six points in that three stretch, the IceHogs came out with just one.  With Rockford outside of the playoff picture right now by four points, those three points really stick out.

Enough negativity though because this team is playing great down the stretch for a second straight season. Last season, Rockford finished the campaign’s final 24 games 17-5-1-1 (.750), but came up short in their bid for the postseason. That surge didn’t start until Feb. 25.

The IceHogs got a month-and-a-half jump start on their revival this season, as the turnaround began on Jan. 16. I mentioned at the beginning of the season how very similar I thought the 2010-11 IceHogs team was to this season’s edition, and it has played out that way with the exception of an earlier turnaround.

On Jan. 16 of this year, Rockford was 14-21-1-3 before a 2-0 victory over the Texas Stars. On Feb. 25, 2011, the IceHogs were 21-28-3-4 before a 4-2 win over the Peoria Rivermen. Both clubs bottomed out at seven games under .500 and both teams’ return to respectability was fueled by hot goalies (Hannu Toivonen last season and Carter Hutton this season).

All eight remaining IceHogs’ games are against opponents that are in the playoff mix in the Western Conference and are catchable in the standings.  The schedule really couldn’t have worked out any better for Rockford.

Back on March 6th, I said that in order for the IceHogs to seriously remain in playoff contention, the team needed to go 7-2-0-0 or pick up 14 standings points. Well, I was close. The team went 6-3-0-0 over those nine tilts and are now four points out.

Anything less than 6-2-0-0 over the final eight games probably won’t get Rockford in. If the IceHogs can pull that off, that would put them at 38-31-2-5, including 24-10-1-2 (.689) over their final 37 games.  The point total would equal 83, still no guarantees that will get them into the playoffs.

Again, we need to root for regulation wins in opposing games and hope teams like Oklahoma City, Toronto and Chicago, all division leaders which Rockford does not play down the stretch, can beat the teams Rockford is chasing in regulation.

Toronto’s finish could impact the IceHogs the most as they have eight games remaining, including three against Grand Rapids, two each against Rochester and Abbotsford, and one versus Hamilton.

Out of Oklahoma City’s final eight matchups, they play IceHogs’ playoff race rivals Milwaukee, Grand Rapids, Peoria, Houston, San Antonio and Hamilton.

As for Chicago, they have two against Abbotsford, along with meetings against San Antonio, Houston, Grand Rapids, Milwaukee and Peoria.

The team in my opinion that has the toughest road to the playoffs is Abbotsford, despite six of their final eight games slated for home ice. The Heat have two left against Chicago and Toronto, plus two at Charlotte. Their remaining two are against Rochester.

Grand Rapids road to the playoffs is potentially rocky as well. The Griffins will play five of their final 10 games against division leaders- Toronto (3), Chicago and Oklahoma City.

Milwaukee has the most games left in the AHL (11), but are about to embark on a seven game road swing before closing out the season against Charlotte on April 15. The Admirals will face the Checkers three times down the stretch and their contest at the Bradley Center on April 15 could determine whether Rockford gets into the playoffs.

Realistically, with three weeks remaining in the regular season, only Oklahoma City and Toronto are locks for the Calder Cup Playoffs in the Western Conference. On the flip side, only the Texas Stars are out of the picture in the West while Hamilton is hanging on by a thread.

Including Hamilton, there are 12 teams fighting for six playoff spots. This is as about as good of a playoff race as I’ve ever seen and it’s going to take a hot finish to get the IceHogs into the postseason.