Two late second-period goals propel Grand Rapids to 3-1 victory over Rockford
Grand Rapids, Mich. - A late second-period lapse stood to be the difference as the Rockford IceHogs (33-19-5-2) fell to the Midwest Division-leading Grand Rapids Griffins (37-17-6-2) 3-1 on Saturday night in front a crowd of over 10,000 at Van Andel Arena.
After taking a 1-0 lead late in the middle frame, the IceHogs were burned for two goals in a 1:28 span, putting them in a hole they were not able to escape from. The victory extends Grand Rapids' franchise-record point streak to 18 games, dating back to Feb. 4. The IceHogs finish their two-game set against the team at the top of the West nine points behind the Griffins, with 17 games left to play on their schedule.
Two quick Rockford penalties shortly after Matt Carey opened the scoring for the visitors gave Grand Rapids a brief 5-on-3 power play, an opportunity they used to grab control of the game. After using their timeout to gear themselves for the upcoming two-man advantage, the Griffins executed perfectly, tying the game at one with a goal by Ryan Sproul off of an offensive zone draw. Defenseman Marek Tvrdon got the puck on the right point after a face-off win by Andy Miele, and used the extra time and space to plot his next move. A deft cross-ice pass found Sproul on the left circle, who one-timed a shot past Rockford goalie Michael Leighton at 17:41 of the second.
Shortly afterward Grand Rapids found the net again thanks to a strong individual play by Kevin Porter. With a cleared puck from Nick Jensen rolling harmlessly toward the Rockford end, Porter out-muscled defenseman Ville Pokka for possession and deposited it past a stunned Leighton for a 2-1 lead at 19:09. Jensen and goaltender Tom McCollom tallied assists on the eventual game-winning goal.
The two goal burst put an ugly stamp on a second period where the IceHogs gave their opponents four chances on the power play. Rockford's penalty kill finished a respectable 5-for-6, but untimely infractions - including a pair of bench minors for too many men on the ice - opened the door for Grand Rapids' rally and kept the IceHogs from building any offensive steam.
The defensively-sound Griffins were able to prevent Rockford from mounting a third-period comeback. The home team held the IceHogs to nine shots in the final 20 - many of the unthreatening variety - while adding an insurance marker courtesy of captain Jeff Hoggan.
Picking up a neutral zone feed from linemate Anthony Mantha, Hoggan hit the blue line with speed and danced around a Rockford defender before flipping a backhand past Leighton's blocker. Hoggan's second goal in as many games against the IceHogs turned out to be a back-breaker, giving the Griffins a 3-1 lead with just over five minutes to play in regulation.
Rockford's only offense of the night came when Carey broke through after Nathan Paetsch was sent off for tripping in the second period. With their power play in formation, center Peter Regin moved the puck from the right half wall to a waiting Carey on the blue line. The rookie took two steps and uncorked a cannon that found it's way through traffic and past McCollum, giving him his eigth goal of the year and the IceHogs a 1-0 lead at 14:09.
McCollum picked up the win in his fourth-straight start for Grand Rapids, a stretch that started with a 3-2 overtime win in Rockford last weekend. The veteran stopped 27 of 28 shots faced en route to grabbing his 13th victory of the season.
The road loss happened to be the season debut for a pair of IceHogs defenseman. Keith Seabrook, acquired from the Bridgeport Sound Tigers appeared in his first game in a Rockford uniform, as did Trevor van Riemsdyk, on reconditioning loan from the Chicago Blackhawks.
The IceHogs stay at 73 points, three back from the San Antonio Rampage for fourth place in the Western Conference. Rockford now travels to Rosemont for their final visit to Allstate Arena of the season; a Sunday 3 p.m. matinee with the Chicago Wolves. At stake is the Illinois Lottery Cup, which the IceHogs can clinch with a victory.
Next Home Game: Wednesday, March 18 vs. Adirondack Flames. Game starts at 7 p.m. The IceHogs meet up with the Flames for the first time since October during a WXRX Dollar Day at the BMO. Fans can enjoy one dollar hot dogs, sodas, beers and companion tickets throughout the night. The matchup is the first of three in 10 days between Rockford and Adirondack.