The Chicago Blackhawks AHL affiliate in Rockford has missed the playoffs in each of the two previous seasons. To get there this spring, the IceHogs will have to separate themselves from some very familiar faces.
Rockford currently sits ninth in the Western Conference standings, but its 71 points has them in a tie with two other teams. Those teams are the Chicago Wolves and the Milwaukee Admirals, two Midwest Division rivals.
The IceHogs kept pace Wednesday night with an impressive 4-1 victory over the Toronto Marlies, getting a pair of goals from Jeremy Morin. This included a short-handed dazzler late in the second period that proved to be the game-winner.
Chicago has two games in hand on the IceHogs while Milwaukee has one. As the season winds down, a hungry Rockford club can still take matters into its own hands.
With 11 games remaining in the regular season, Rockford has four head-to-head matchups with the Admirals. Two of them are at home, and over the next few days, the IceHogs battle Milwaukee three times. Rockford also plays Chicago one more time this season and has three straight games with another division rival, the Peoria Rivermen, April 6, 7 and 10.
The IceHogs are 4-3-1 against the Admirals, 5-5-0-1 against Chicago and 5-4-0 against Peoria this season. Coming up big against these teams, with whom Rockford battles in eight of its last 11 games, is the key to reaching the postseason.
Olesz and Montador Making An Impact
The backbreaking goal Wednesday night came off the stick of Steve Montador, who is finally back on the ice after missing over a year with concussion symptoms.
Montador slapped home a laser from the left point 4:06 into the final period to put Rockford up two goals. In the five games since he was loaned to the IceHogs, Montador has a pair of goals, including the game-winner March 22 in Abbotsford, and is a steadying force on the back end.
Rostislav Olesz, who was waived by Chicago and assigned to Rockford after his knee was deemed sound, has also made his presence felt. In three games, Olesz has two goals and two helpers. He is being paired with Martin St. Pierre and a red-hot Morin (who leads the team with 27 goals) on what should be a potent offensive line down the stretch.
It is a bit odd to see Montador donning the No. 8 sweater in Rockford, last worn by Nick Leddy just this fall. I assume that he wasn't given No. 5 since Ben Youds has worn that sweater when he has been up with the IceHogs.
It would be a boost to Rockford if both Montador and Olesz remain on the roster and are healthy. Not only could they help lead the surge the team needs to make the playoffs, but they could make the IceHogs a tough team to beat once there.
Cutting Out The Time In The Box
The IceHogs remain the AHL's most penalized team, but a more disciplined approach is paying off, as Rockford has won 11 of 15 games.
Over the weekend, which saw the IceHogs play in Abbotsford on back-to-back nights, Rockford committed just three penalties. Wednesday, the Hogs were whistled just twice.
For a team playing familiar opponents several times in a short span, staying off the penalty kill could be huge if they can keep that up.