The Rockford IceHogs host Chicago Tuesday night at the BMO Center. It is the biggest game of the year for both teams. There are four games remaining in the regular season. However, the playoff hopes of both teams likely hinge on the result of this season’s final matchup between the I-90 rivals.
The IceHogs earned a split with Milwaukee this past weekend. Chicago took three of four points with Iowa. Heading into Tuesday, Rockford holds a one-point lead for the fifth and final postseason spot in the Central Division.
Rocco Grimaldi paced the IceHogs to a 3-2 victory in Milwaukee Friday night with a pair of goals. Rockford held on for a key victory, with Mike Hardman’s fifth of the season being the game-winner. The following evening, the Admirals led from the opening minute on the way to a 5-1 win. Luke Philp potted Rockford’s lone goal Saturday.
The Hogs and Wolves finish the season with the same three opponents-Milwaukee, Grand Rapids, and Manitoba. Both teams conclude their schedules with games on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. It really comes down to how each team finishes against common opponents.
Chicago is currently on an eight-game point streak in which it has gone 6-0-2. The piglets are 5-5 over their last ten games and have dropped their last four with the Wolves. In those games, Chicago has outscored Rockford 17-5.
Remember, the IceHogs must finish ahead of Chicago to secure a playoff appearance, lest fourth-place Iowa loses its last three games. While that’s not impossible (the Wild finish with Milwaukee and a pair in Texas), this is Rockford’s last chance to control its destiny. A regulation win over the Wolves and two victories this weekend will do it, no matter how Chicago closes out the season.
First things first…the IceHogs need a regulation win Tuesday. Rockford has just two regulation wins at the BMO in its last 18 attempts. Those would be April 2 over Grand Rapids and December 31 against the Wolves. Following that 6-2 win, Rockford was 15 points ahead of the Wolves in the standings. Since then:
So…the Wolves have a full head of steam coming into Tuesday’s showdown. The Hogs are struggling to score consistently and were spanked by the Admirals Saturday night. Arvid Soderblom was out-played in the net by Milwaukee’s backup, Devin Cooley.
Chicago will surely have Pyotr Kochetkov in the net to oppose Soderblom. Kochetkov is 3-0 against Rockford with a 1.31 GAA and a .935 save percentage. He shut out the Hogs back on April 1.
The organization’s response? Let’s send Lukas Reichel to Rockford a day early and let him take care of it.
Reichel, along with Alex Vlasic, comes down from the Blackhawks to try and help secure a postseason position. Buddy Robinson was recalled to Chicago in a reciprocal move on Monday.
Reichel can’t hurt Rockford’s chances in this last week. This gives the Hogs at least an echo of the offensive potential they had in the first three months of the season. Reunite the firm of Brett Seney, Reichel, and David Gust, then put Bobby Lynch with Grimaldi and Philp to form two potent scoring lines.
Will that be enough to best the Wolves? It’s going to have to do, as the only other help from the Hawks would come if/when Joey Anderson is assigned to Rockford (along with Robinson) for the weekend. From a talent standpoint, this is as together a roster as the Hogs have had in the last six weeks.
Next week, I will either be taking a closer look at a play-in series or deconstructing a massive failure of a season for the IceHogs. Follow me @JonFromi on twitter to see how it all shakes out.