ROCKFORD — The Rockford IceHogs’ power play was ranked 25th in the AHL during the regular season. But after two playoff games, it has Rockford on the verge of the second round of the Calder Cup Playoffs.
Three power play goals from the IceHogs led Rockford to a 5-2 win over the Chicago Wolves in Game 2 of their best-of-5 Central Division semifinal.
“We’ve been real good for a while now,” Rockford coach Jeremy Colliton said of the IceHogs’ power play. “Every time those guys go over the boards, they feel like they can make a difference in the game. We’re moving the puck clean, getting good looks to the net, winning the pucks back and doing it again.”
It was an even-strength tally that opened the scoring for Rockford, with William Pelletier scoring on a wrist shot from between the circles that tied the game at one at the 13:24 mark of the first period.
Then the power play got started.
Luke Johnson, a fifth-round pick of the Hawks in the 2013 draft who signed an entry-level contract in 2016, picked up a loose puck after Cody Franson’s shot was blocked and fired it into an open net to temporarily put Rockford up 2-1.
“Our unit’s been clicking for a while now and we wanted to keep that going in the postseason,” Johnson said. “We’re doing a good job of supporting each other, shooting the puck and having guys at the net like (Tyler Sikura). He does a good job in front and he’s a big part of that power play.”
Rockford went into the first intermission tied at two when Zac Leslie tied the game just 51 seconds after Johnson’s goal. But Matthew Highmore restored the Rockford lead with a power play goal early in the second period.
After Rockford killed off a 5-on-3 power play for Chicago, the IceHogs got their own two-man advantage and converted, with Victor Ejdsell passing to a wide-open Chris DiDomenico, who one-timed the puck into the net for a 4-2 Rockford lead and the IceHogs’ third power play goal of the game.
“We were desperate and found a way to get some clears,” Colliton said. “And then we scored on our own 5-on-3. That’s a pretty big swing in the game.”
The IceHogs defense smothered the Wolves in the final period, holding Chicago to just three shots on net over the final 20 minutes to secure the victory. Lance Bouma added an empty-net goal with 39 seconds left to seal the win.
“Our whole group was pretty solid,” Colliton said of the final period. “We found a way to win the battles, especially around the net and the blue lines. We got pucks out and in when necessary. We’ve got some size throughout our group and that’s nice to have. We won the battles we needed to win.”
Colliton said it wasn’t his team’s best performance, but he was still pleased with the IceHogs’ ability to earn the victory, highlighting the defensive effort in the third period multiple times after the game.
“It wasn’t always pretty,” he said. “(Chicago) had a real good push, especially in the beginning of the game. They made it uncomfortable for us. We could’ve managed the puck better and been a little sharper defensively. What I liked is we found a way to win anyway. We got some key goals. In the third, we did what we had to do.”
The IceHogs will go for the sweep on Thursday night at the Allstate Arena. But Highmore and the rest of Rockford don’t expect the Wolves to go quietly.
“They’re very talented,” he said. “We expect their best on Thursday and we’ll have to prepare because it’s going to be a tough test.”