Photo by Todd Reicher
Rockford, Ill. – The Grand Rapids Griffins scored the first three goals in Game 5 of the Western Conference Semifinals and didn’t look back as they ousted the Rockford IceHogs from the Calder Cup Playoffs with a 5-3 victory at the BMO Harris Bank Center on Sunday.
Grand Rapids will advance to the Western Conference Finals for the second time in three seasons after winning the series with Rockford 4-1.
"We didn't have the jump and energy we needed tonight," said IceHogs Head Coach Ted Dent. "It's disappointing to end the season like that but Grand Rapids was better than us in the series and they deserved to win."
Already faced with a daunting task of having to win three straight games to advance in playoffs, the IceHogs weren't making it any easier as they found themselves in a 4-1 hole to start the final period.
With the IceHogs going on a power play, Dent sensed that it was desperation time for his squad and pulled his goaltender in favor of an extra attacker. The move sparked a flurry of chances for Rockford but unfortunately none were able to get by Griffins goaltender Tom McCollum.
Soon after, and with Mac Carruth still on the bench for the extra attacker, Grand Rapids found the empty net to bump the lead up to 5-1. Teemu Pulkkinen fired a shot from his own end wide of the IceHogs empty cage but Jeff Hoggan was able to race it down and flip the puck into the empty net at 11:38.
With their season on the line Rockford wouldn’t go away quietly, however, as Zach Miskovic answered with less than four minutes remaining. Brandon Mashinter and Peter Regin setup Miskovic in the near faceoff circle and he ripped a shot past McCollum to make it a 5-2 game.
Working with a late power play, and Carruth on the bench again, the IceHogs cashed in with two extra skaters to bring the game back within reach. Tanner Kero fired a shot that McCollum thwarted but Mashinter deposited the loose change to trim the Griffins lead to 5-3.
Unfortunately it was too little too late for Rockford as they were unable to get anything more by McCollum the rest of the way before seeing their 2014-15 season come to a close.
"For whatever reason we couldn't get it going," said Dent. "When you don't get it going in the playoffs it catches up with you."
Grand Rapids jumped out to the early 1-0 lead off the stick of the AHL’s leading goal scorer during the regular season and thus far in the postseason. Andy Miele found Pulkkinen at the point on a power play and the winger blasted his seventh goal of the series and 13th of the playoffs past Michael Leighton, who started in net for the IceHogs.
Miele would get a goal of his own as he finished a three on one breakaway to push the score to 2-0 just 39 seconds into the second period. Mark Zengerle sprung the rush and Miele went coast-to-coast before spinning and throwing a backhander to the back of the net. The goal chased Leighton from the game as he was replaced by Carruth early into the middle frame.
Less than two minutes later Marek Tvrdon gave the Griffins a three goal advantage before Rockford had a response. Tvrdon scored his first of the playoffs at 2:16 before the IceHogs were finally able to crack McCollum 5:10 into the second. Cody Bass won a faceoff to Tanner Kero and he rifled it to the back of the net and put the IceHogs on the board to make it a 3-1 score.
Leighton stopped 10 of the 12 shots he faced while Carruth was tagged with the loss while making 13 saves in a relief effort. McCollum picked up the win for Grand Rapids, tying him for a league-most with a 7-2-0 record in the postseason.