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ICEHOGS LEAVE GRAND RAPIDS EMPTY HANDED

By: Brent Hollerud
Photo by Mark Newman
Grand Rapids rolls to 5-1 victory in Game 2, take 2-0 series lead
 
Grand Rapids, Mich. - After taking the express route to the second round of the Calder Cup Playoffs, the IceHogs will now have to traverse a significant roadblock if they want to travel any further. The Grand Rapids Griffins handed the IceHogs a humbling 5-1 victory in Game 2 of the Western Conference Semifinals Friday night at Van Andel Arena, using a trio of third period goals to help grab a 2-0 series lead. 

Rockford will have the chance to climb out of their newfound hole on home ice, as the best-of-seven set shifts to the BMO Harris Bank Center beginning with Game 3 on Wednesday night. 

After drawing first blood early in the game, the IceHogs soon lost the lead and later lost control, as Grand Rapids put their foot on the throttle while Rockford grew frustrated. Anthony Mantha scored the game-winning goal halfway through the second period, and Teemu Pulkkinen continued his romp through the AHL postseason with two goals and an assist in the third to put Game 2 out of reach. 

The first 20 minutes in many aspects belonged to the visiting IceHogs, who owned a 12-7 edge in shots on goal and a similar advantage in offensive-zone time. It was in a sequence of stifling pressure where Brandon Mashinter opened the night's scoring.

The Griffins fell into trouble when defenseman Alexey Marchenko's stick snapped, allowing Rockford to set up their attack on a pseudo-man advantage situation. After three or four attempts on the net, Spencer Abbott found Mashinter waiting wide open in the slot, who fired a missile through the legs of goaltender Tom McCollum for his second goal of the playoffs just 6:18 into the game. 

Grand Rapids would answer before the end of the opening period, however, as Tyler Bertuzzi caught Michael Leighton off-guard to make even the game at one. In an innocent-looking play, the rookie winger tossed a change-up from low on the left half-wall which bounced in off of Leighton's glove. 

If Game 2's momentum was in possession of the IceHogs through the first 20, it changed hands quickly in the second. The Griffins held a heavy edge in puck possession, kept Rockford's chances to a minimum and soon took the lead - ironically during the best IceHogs shift of the frame. 

Pinned deep in their own zone for nearly a minute, defenseman Xaiver Ouellet turned a loose puck into a transition attack, lofting the puck from his own goal line to the neutral zone. The stretch pass landed on Kevin Porter's stick, who found himself on a 2-on-1 rush alongside Mantha. A well-timed pass-and-shoot play gave Mantha his first goal of the playoffs and Grand Rapids all the cushion it would need for a 2-0 series lead. 

Down 2-1, Rockford had a good chance to find an equalizer as the third period started with Pulkkinen in the penalty box. Instead, upon his release the AHL's top goal-getter picked up where he left off in Game 1, springing loose on a breakaway and deking out Leighton for a 3-1 lead 1:36 into the final frame. 

Another one of Pulkkinen's game-high nine shots on net set up Grand Rapids' fourth goal at 7:58, one that essentially sealed the game's fate. The 23-year-old Finn threw a feed from Tomas Nosek at Leighton, who kicked a rebound right to the waiting stick of Jeff Hoggan, who converted for his first goal of the postseason.

The IceHogs' emotions began to boil over down the stretch, setting up Pulkkinen's second goal of the game which came on a two-minute 5-on-3 power play opportunity. After curling away from a check, Nosek again found Pulkkinen, who picked up his own rebound to beat a helpless Leighton. The tally extended the Griffins lead to 5-1 at 15:24, and gave Pulkkinen his 11th playoff goal in only his seventh game. 

The game ended with an ugly scrum after the final buzzer, resulting in 72 penalty minutes being issued - 42 toward the IceHogs. 

Leighton swallowed his second defeat in a row after making 25 saves on 30 shots. In the other end McCollum used a 28-save performance to spur his team to their fifth-straight victory at Van Andel Arena, setting a new franchise playoff record. 

But Grand Rapids has yet to win away from home in these playoffs, a trend Rockford is hoping can help them turn the tide of the second-round series. The IceHogs return home to host Games 3, 4 and 5 (if necessary) at the BMO Harris Bank Center, where they dispatched of the defending Calder Cup champion Texas Stars in their last visit. 

Next Home Game:
Wednesday, May 13, Western Conference Semifinals - Game 3, vs. Grand Rapids Griffins. Face-off is at 7 p.m. The IceHogs will return home to the BMO Harris Bank Center for Game 3 when the best-of-seven series shifts to Rockford. The first 2,500 fans will receive a rally towel courtesy of BMO Harris Bank. The festivities will begin prior to puck drop during a Pregame Block Party, sponsored by Swedish American Hospital starting at 4 p.m.


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