The Rockford IceHogs are inching closer to the end of their regular season. Will that season continue following the April 16 finale in Milwaukee? Maybe. Probably. The piglets playoff picture continues to develop with just nine games remaining. Here we go…
The IceHogs entered this week seven points behind Manitoba for the third-seed in the Central Division. Following two games at Canada Life Centre, Rockford is eight points behind. The Hogs defeated the Moose 4-3 in a shootout Wednesday on the only attempt that reached twine, that of Rocco Grimaldi’s shot in round two.
This came after Manitoba tied the game with ten seconds remaining in regulation. Picking up two points was key to catching the Moose in the Central Division standings; letting Manitoba slip away with a point was considerably poor form. Two of Manitoba’s three goals came via two-man advantages. Arvid Soderblom stopped 43 shots and denied three shootout attempts for a hard-earn victory.
Friday, Manitoba cruised to a 5-0 lead in the first 21 minutes of action. Soderblom was pulled in favor of Jaxson Stauber after four first-period goals by the Moose. Manitoba claimed a 6-2 win that pretty much ended hopes of Rockford vaulting into a top-three finish in the division.
Where Does This Leave The Hogs?
Rockford (30-24-5-4) currently sits in fifth place in the Central with nine games remaining on its regular-season slate. With 69 points, the Hogs trail fourth-place Iowa (72 points) and have two games in hand on the Wild.
Grand Rapids (eight games left) and Chicago (ten games left) sit in the division basement with 61 points entering play this week. The Griffins and Wolves play each other twice the rest of the way. Each also has two games remaining with Rockford. After the Hogs host Laval this Friday, they will finish a three-in-three weekend in Rosemont on Saturday and at the BMO Sunday when Grand Rapids visits.
The IceHogs won’t be winning any tie-breaking scenarios, as Rockford has just 15 regulation wins this season. Twelve points in the final nine games would force Chicago to run the table to tie Rockford. 81 points sounds like a relatively safe finish for the piglets; it may or may not overtake the Wild, but Rockford is looking at a best-of-three play-in series with Iowa whether it finishes fourth or fifth in the Central.
Could the IceHogs catch fire and reel off 6-7 wins to close out the regular season? Perhaps. Let’s go back and find the last nine-game stretch where RFD won six games.
That would be Dec. 21-Jan. 13, where the piglets went 6-2-1. Immediately after that nine-game run, RFD lost seven straight. The best the IceHogs have managed since was a 5-2-0-2 mark from Jan. 31-Feb. 22.
To summarize, Rockford could play its best hockey of the last three months to lock up a spot in the post season. Just winning the remaining four games with Grand Rapids and Chicago in regulation probably does it as well. Finishing with 79 points, or ten points in these last nine games, is likely good enough to qualify. The IceHogs certainly have control of their playoff destiny at the moment.
How’s The Roster?
Rockford is slowly re-gaining some depth up front. The Blackhawks reassigned F Buddy Robinson to the Hogs on Sunday. Another player or two could possibly follow to help Rockford before hitting the BMO ice against Laval Friday. At the moment, the IceHogs have been competitive largely on the strength of Grimaldi, Luke Philp, and David Gust, who accounted for four of Rockford’s five goals this past weekend (The fifth belonged to D Issak Phillips).
Getting Robinson back is another step towards what could be a deep, formidable playoff roster. Lukas Reichel, Joey Anderson, and Mike Hardman are playoff-eligible and would provide a boost to close out the regular season. The IceHogs could also pick up a PTO or an ATO that could chip in as the regular season winds down.
Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for my musings as Rockford finishes the stretch run over the next couple of weeks.