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ICEHOGS ROAR BACK, TAKE DOWN STARS

Article By: Brent Hollerud

Photo by Greg Hamil
03/22/2015 9:35 AM -

Rockford sweeps season series with Texas with 4-3 win at the BMO

Rockford, Ill. - An early hole was no deterrent for the Rockford IceHogs (37-19-5-2), who rattled off four unanswered goals to defeat the Texas Stars (31-19-13-1) 4-3 on Sunday afternoon in front of a crowd of 5571 at the BMO Harris Bank Center. 

The victory was the fourth-straight for the surging IceHogs, who have now picked up points in nine of their last 10 games dating back to Feb. 21. It was also their fourth win this year over the Stars; completing the 2014-15 season sweep of the defending Calder Cup Champions. 

Rockford - with 81 points after Sunday - increased their lead over the Stars for possession of fifth place in the Western Conference to five points. Looking ahead in the standings, the IceHogs trail the fourth-place Oklahoma City Barons by only one point, with two games in hand. 

After finding themselves down 2-0 before the first media timeout, Rockford rallied with three goals before the first intermission and one more in the second to put an end to Texas' six-game winning streak. Center Dennis Rasmussen led the offensive charge with a goal and an assist, while Garret Ross and Ville Pokka each chipped in a pair of assists. 

At a time where the Stars had taken a firm grip on the game's flow with two quick goals, Rockford's power play provided the spark for a three-goal deluge in the latter stages of the first period. 

With Texas' Devin Shore off for high-sticking, it only took the home team 24 seconds to find their first goal of the night, courtesy of Brandon Mashinter. Receiving a pass from Rasmussen on the right half wall, the veteran winger walked the puck from the corner to the net. When a centering pass bounced right back to him, Mashinter tossed the rebound inside the left post of Stars netminder Jack Campbell at 9:27 of the first period. 

Rasmussen completed his two-point night when he found the net himself two and a half minutes later. With the IceHogs attacking in transition, Ross pulled the puck around a defender and dropped an area pass right when it seemed like he was about to shoot himself. Rasmussen picked up the puck and delivered a precisely-placed shot inside the left post for his 10th goal of the season, tying the game at two. 

Playing with a newfound vigor, Rockford claimed the lead when Mark McNeill put a cap on an explosive first period at 17:55. Forcing a turnover deep in the Stars' zone, McNeill curled around the back of the net and banked a shot off of Campbell's back to complete the three-goal outburst in a 8:48 span. What was his 18th marker of the year brought the second-year center to a first-place tie in team goal scoring with his linemate Ross. 

On the heels of the wide-open opening period, the IceHogs staked claim to the only tally of the second when they took the ice on an extended 5-on-3 power play. Rockford had a full two minutes to work the two-man advantage after two Stars were sent to the box in the same sequence.

After showing great patience waiting for an opportunity, Pokka found his opening when he threaded a perfect feed from the blue line to the goal mouth to a waiting Spencer Abbott. Abbott only had to get a piece of the pass to pick up his 12th goal of the season, and the fifth in his seven games with the IceHogs. The goal at 10:16 gave Rockford a 4-2 lead, one that would stand through the end of the second period.

Rockford's power play finished 2-for-7 on the evening, as the unit continues to come through when it is needed most. The IceHogs have scored with the extra man in eight of their last 10 games, operating at a 23.8% clip over that span (10/42). Completing the strong game from Rockford's special teams was a 4-for-4 performance from the penalty killers, who silenced the Stars' power play unit, coming into the game ranked second in the league. 

The Stars were able to climb back within a single goal early in the third period when Branden Troock capitalized on a Rockford turnover. A mishandled breakout pass ended on the stick of Shore, who found Troock trailing close behind, beating IceHogs goaltender Michael Leighton blocker side at 3:32 of the frame.

Texas found plenty of pressure down the stretch looking for the equalizer, but could not solve Leighton and the Rockford defense. Leighton made 28 saves, including nine in the third period, to grab his 17th victory of the season. Campbell was pegged for the loss, turning aside 33 of 37 shots faced. 

The Stars opened the scoring when Justin Dowling finished off a deft passing play. Defenseman Julius Honka one-touched a pass from behind the goal line right to Brendan Ranford, who found Dowling wide open on Leighton's right side for the tap-in 7:07 into the game. 

64 later the Stars struck again, as Greg Rallo found a shooting lane and beat Leighton clean with a wrist shot. The assist went to Jamie Oleksiak, who started the play when he stripped an attacking Peter Regin of the puck and led the counter-attack up the left wing. A perfect centering pass found Rallo in the high slot, who fired his team-leading 22nd of the season past Leighton's blocker. 

Rockford wraps up their season-long four game homestand on Wednesday when they meet Midwest Division rival Lake Erie at the BMO, in what is the last of eight meetings this season between the IceHogs and Monsters. 

Next Home Game: Wednesday, March 25 vs. Lake Erie Monsters: Puck drop is at 7 p.m. The IceHogs finish off a season long four game homestand during another WXRX Dollar Day at the BMO. Fans can enjoy one dollar hot dogs, sodas, beers and companion tickets throughout the night.