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IceHogs finish fourth in Western Conference race

Rockford, Ill. – The Rockford IceHogs (46-23-5-2) were in an unusual position on Saturday night as they dropped a 3-1 contest to the Toronto Marlies (39-27-9-0) in front of a sold out BMO Harris Bank Center.

With the Grand Rapids Griffins losing to Charlotte, Rockford had a chance to win their first AHL Midwest Division title outright with a victory. Instead, the IceHogs saw Toronto put an end to their hot stretch on home ice in which the club dominated to nine straight wins, averaging 4.66 goals per game.

The IceHogs finished their best AHL season with 99 points and as the fourth seed in the Western Conference, barely trailing the Griffins (100 points) for the Midwest Division title and a second seed. Rockford will play the Texas Stars in the first round of the Calder Cup Playoffs, beginning next week.

Toronto got things started in the first period with a pair of tallies to take an early two goal lead. Just after the IceHogs failed to convert on the man advantage, Toronto raced the other way and potted the game’s first goal. Matt Frattin found William Nylander and he ripped his 13th goal of the season past Mac Carruth 4:39 into the first frame.

The Toronto lead was doubled to 2-0 just over five minutes later off a nifty play from rookie forward Connor Brown. Brown stole the puck while Rockford was on the attack, turned on the jets the other way, and slipped it under Carruth at 9:45 for his 21st tally of the season.

With less than two minutes remaining in the first, Peter Regin nearly cut the Marlies lead in half to put IceHogs on the board but he rang a shot off the goal post. It was the first of many in which the IceHogs would draw iron throughout the contest as they were unable to get pucks by Christopher Gibson.

After a scoreless middle frame, forward Byron Froese struck gold against his former team to bump the lead up to 3-0. Nylander led a two-on-two rush into the Rockford zone before pulling up and issuing a perfectly timed pass for Froese to fire to the back of the cage 4:53 into the third.

Rockford finally broke through on Gibson to end his shutout bid with just 5.8 left on the clock. With Matt Rupert in the box serving a Toronto bench minor, IceHogs head coach Ted Dent pulled Carruth in favor of another attacked and it paid off as Tanner Kero converted on the power play for his fifth goal in six games. The rookie now has goals in four staight games for Rockford.

Gibson was solid in net for the Marlies as he stopped 40 chances en route to his 24th victory of the season. Carruth was handed his first loss with Rockford, turning aside 14 of the 17 shots he faced.

Next Home Game: Wednesday, April 29, Western Conference Quarterfinals - Game 3, vs. Texas Stars. Face-off is at 7 p.m. The IceHogs will play their first Calder Cup Playoff game in the Forest City since 2010 when the opening round series shifts to Rockford for Game 3. The first 1,500 fans will receive a free cowbell courtesy of BMO Harris Bank. The festivities begin prior to puck drop during a Pregame Block Party, sponsored by Swedish American Hospital.