Streaking Griffins leave the BMO with a 3-2 win in exciting affair
Rockford, Ill. - The massive Saturday night gathering at the BMO Harris Bank Center may have left the building unhappy, but not unsatisfied. In what was a fast and exciting contest between the top two teams in the AHL's Midwest Division, the Rockford IceHogs (33-18-5-2) suffered a 3-2 overtime defeat to the white-hot Grand Rapids Griffins (35-17-6-1) in front of a sold-out crowd of 6,475.
Center Andy Miele scored 1:27 into the extra frame to give the Griffins the key second point, as they continued on their incredible tear through the Western Conference. Grand Rapids has now picked up points in 15 straight games dating back to the beginning of February; a stretch that has taken them to the top of the West.
The overtime loss snapped Rockford's four-game winning streak, and left a sour taste on what was a successful two-game homestand. The IceHogs picked up three out of four points against the top two teams in the West, finishing the weekend just four points shy of the leading Griffins.
As the playoff race is intensifying, a possible postseason preview was on display Saturday in Rockford, as the IceHogs and Griffins put on a show from the opening face-off. An airtight opening 40 minutes combusted into a wide open final frame, where three goals were scored and chances were ample.
Two of the goals in the third belonged to the hometown team, as Rockford rattled off two goals in the first six minutes by Brandon Mashinter and Zach Miskovic to turn a 1-0 hole into a 2-1 lead. But the IceHogs couldn't keep the high-octane Griffins down long, as Anthony Mantha tied the game just over a minute after the Griffins fell behind.
Jeff Hoggan, who opened the scoring in the second period, set up the equalizer when he lured two IceHogs defenders to left point. Under duress, Hoggan slid a pinpoint pass to the net mouth and and a waiting Mantha, who beat Rockford goalie Antti Raanta with a quick move at 7:35.
Prior to Mantha's tally, the beginning of the period was all IceHogs, who came out determined to solve a Griffins defense that had kept them out of the scoring areas for the first two periods. Brandon Mashinter tied the game 2:12 into the third when he was rewarded for bullying his way to the front of the net. When a Zach Miskovic point blast handcuffed netminder Tom McCollum, Mashinter was in position to deposit a rebound for his 12th of the season.
Rockford took the lead just over four minutes later, once again thanks to a play by Miskovic. Creeping down low in the offensive zone, the veteran defenseman threw a shot on net, grabbed his own rebound, and threw a centering feed which ricocheted off a Grand Rapids body and behind McCollum at 6:26. After netting only three points in his first 30 games this season, Miskovic has tallied a goal and three assists over his last three outings.
The only goal of the first two periods belonged to Grand Rapids, when Hoggan beat Raanta on a breakaway sprung by a quick transition play by defenseman Nathan Paetsch. When the IceHogs failed to get the puck deep in the Griffins end, Paetsch made a one-touch feed from inside his blue line to a streaking Hoggan down the middle. The Grand Rapids captain beat the Rockford goaltender one-on-one to give his team a 1-0 lead 6:55 into period two.
Raanta played admirably in defeat, getting saddled the extra-time loss despite making 24 saves. Several of his biggest stops came when the IceHogs were trailing and the Griffins were pressing to extend their lead. In the other end, McCollum turned aside 29 shots to pick up the victory in his first start since Feb. 13 - breaking a string of seven straight starts by colleague Petr Mrazek.
Both teams' power play units came up empty, as Rockford and Grand Rapids were scoreless in two and four attempts respectively. The outage broke a four game scoring stretch for the IceHogs with the extra man.
Three games remain on the dwindling regular season schedule between the division rivals, beginning next Saturday at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids. The IceHogs are off until then, as they visit the Griffins and Chicago Wolves for a weekend road set before returning to the BMO on Wednesday, March 18 to take on the Adirondack Flames.
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.