ROCKFORD, Ill. – The Rockford IceHogs steamrolled through the opening round of the Calder Cup playoffs to sweep the top-seeded Chicago Wolves and await the victor of the Grand Rapids-Manitoba series. With the Moose ultimately prevailing over the Griffins in a decisive Game 5 on Monday, Rockford now regroups and begins preparations for a best-of-seven showdown with the three-seed Manitoba.
The road team won each of the matchups between the Hogs and Moose during the regular season, with each club winning its two contests away from home during the series. Manitoba thumped Rockford 8-1 at the BMO Harris Bank Center on Nov. 28 and clipped the Hogs 4-3 in overtime on Feb. 2. The IceHogs then rebounded a month later to sweep the final two games of the series at Bell MTS Place with a 4-2 victory on March 26 and 4-3 triumph on March 28.
Rockford now enters the Division Finals with its special teams having paced a first-round sweep of the Wolves. The IceHogs combined for multiple power-play goals in each of the three contests against Chicago and capped the series with seven total power-play goals (38.9%).
The power-play success matches up well with the penalty-prone squad from Manitoba, as the Moose were whistled for 23 minor penalties and a league-high 136 penalty minutes through just five games in the opening round of the Calder Cup playoffs. Manitoba averaged 27.20 penalty minutes per game against the Griffins, which ranks as 7.20 more PIMs/game than any team in the postseason.
Thus far in the playoffs, the IceHogs’ success has been fueled by a duo which also paced the team in scoring against the Moose during the regular season. Forward Chris DiDomenico and defenseman Adam Clendening scored a team-best six points apiece against Manitoba, and currently share the team lead for points during the Calder Cup playoffs. DiDomencio began the postseason with a point in both Game 1 & 2 before erupting for a franchise record-tying three points with a goal and two assists in Game 3 last Thursday. Clendening, on the other hand, produced multi-point efforts in Game 1 & 2 prior to finishing the first round with a lone helper during the series finale.
Goaltender Collin Delia also helped fuel the IceHogs’ run through the opening round of the postseason, backstopping the team to each of its three victories. Delia, who was solid in net against Manitoba during the regular season with a .929 save percentage in two appearances, enters the Division Finals ranked second in the AHL with a 1.52 GAA and third with a .949 save percentage this postseason. The rookie netminder has made 30+ saves in each of the first three games of the playoffs, including a franchise-record 55 saves in the triple-overtime thriller in Game 3 against the Wolves.
The Moose faceoff against Rockford with a loaded playoff roster, including the AHL’s 2017-18 Coach of the Year, Pascal Vincent. With Vincent behind the bench, the Moose set multiple franchise records during the 2017-18 campaign, including a 16-game run without a regulation loss (Nov. 15 – Dec. 22) and 13-straight home games without a regulation loss (Oct. 15 – Dec. 22). The bench boss also guided Manitoba to its best first half in franchise history with a record of 25-8-3-2 (0.724 points percentage).
On the ice, standout forward Mason Appleton was named the recipient of the Dudley Garrett Memorial Award as the AHL’s most outstanding rookie for the 2017-18 season. The 22-year-old Appleton led all league rookies in scoring and finished fourth in the entire AHL with 66 points (22g, 44a) in 76 games. The forward also concluded the regular season ranked first among rookies in assists, second in shots (190) and tied for third in power-play points (21). However, Appleton skated in just two of Manitoba’s five first-round games against the Grand Rapids Griffins and notched only one point (an assist).
The Moose’s corps of blue liners is highlighted by former IceHogs defenseman, Cameron Schilling, who set career-high marks in games (71), points (32), assists (26) and plus/minus rating (+25) with Manitoba this year. Schilling potted the game-winning goal in the first-round series clincher on April 30 and has now logged two goals, two assists and four points in five postseason games.
Between the pipes, Eric Cromrie has started each of Manitoba’s five games in the Calder Cup playoffs. Cromrie, who also started opposite of Hogs netminder Delia during his NHL debut with the Blackhawks this season, is 3-2 with a 2.82 GAA and .922 save percentage thus far in the postseason. He allowed five goals on April 22 vs. the Griffins but has since surrendered three or fewer goals in each of his last three appearances.
The IceHogs and Moose will open their best-of-seven series tomorrow night at Bell MTS Place. Each of the final three regular-season meetings was decided by two or fewer goals, with the IceHogs notching points in each of those three contests.
Next Home Game: Wednesday, May 9 vs. Manitoba Moose (Calder Cup Playoffs | Game 3/Ticket D)
The Rockford IceHogs will host Game 3 (Ticket D) of their second-round 2017-18 Calder Cup playoff series against the /Manitoba Moose on Wednesday, May 9 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.