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Photo by Mark Newman
04/01/2015 10:00 AM -

Rockford suffers 6-1 loss to begin home-and-home series with Griffins

Grand Rapids, Mich. - The Rockford IceHogs (39-21-5-2) were handed their most lopsided loss of the season on Wednesday night as the Grand Rapids Griffins (41-19-6-2) cruised to a 6-1 victory at Van Andel Arena. 

With the win the Griffins extended their lead atop the Midwest Division to five points over the second-place IceHogs. Rockford will have a chance to rebound against Grand Rapids on Friday as the home-and-home series shifts to the BMO Harris Bank Center. 

What was billed to be an exciting matchup between two teams vying for a division title turned into a rout in favor of the Griffins. After an opportunistic first period gave the hometown team a 2-0 lead, Grand Rapids turned up the throttle, potting three goals in the second period and one more in the third. 

Six different Griffins had multi-point performances as Rockford surrendered over five goals for only the second time in 2014-15. Right wing Landon Ferraro led the charge with a goal and two assists, while Grand Rapids' leading scorer Andy Miele potted his 22nd and 23rd goals of the year. 

Not lost in the offensive night for the Griffins was a stout 45-save performance by goaltender Tom McCollum. Nearly half of McCollum's saves came in a stellar first period performance, where the IceHogs held a staggering 21-9 lead in shots but headed into the intermission down by two. 

Despite dominating play in the first period, a pair of transition goals put the IceHogs in a hole that they would not escape from. A turnover in the neutral zone sprung Martin Frk and Louis-Marc Aubry on a 2-on-1 break, which the latter finished on to put the Griffins up 1-0 at 3:24. 

After being thwarted by McCollum on a power play, Rockford succumbed to another Grand Rapids rush, when Miele bagged his first of two on the night. Anthony Mantha beat an IceHogs defender in a footrace to a rolling puck, and found Miele trailing close behind - who beat IceHogs goaltender Michael Leighton on the backhand to double the lead at 17:11. 

The Griffins took over the game in the second period, adding three more tallies as they had their way with the Rockford defense. Miele benefitted from an IceHogs own-goal 1:11 into the period to put an end to Leighton's night. After picking up a rebound, the AHL's second-leading scorer banked a centering pass off the stick of Peter Regin and past the stunned netminder. Leighton was charged with his 12th loss of the season, making seven saves.

With Antti Raanta in net, Rockford seemed to receive a spark when Matt Carey broke through to make it 3-1 midway through the second. When a Ryan Hartman shot attempt handcuffed McCollum, Carey was there for the put back for his 10th of the season at 10:21. 

The momentum lasted approximately 15 seconds before the Griffins answered with a backbreaker from Ferraro. After picking up a breakout pass from Tomas Nosek, Ferarro walked uncontested from the right wing and cut right in front of Raanta, slipping the puck five hole. 

Nosek picked up a goal of his own at 15:25 when he capitalized on a uninspired Rockford backcheck. Ferraro picked off a Kyle Cumiskey breakout pass on the Rockford blue line, and found Nosek down the center of the ice, who out-muscled his man and chipped the puck through Raanta's arms for a 5-1 lead. 

Grand Rapids capped off their scoring in the third period with a power play goal from Alexey Marchenko. With Garret Ross in the box for slashing, Marchenko pounced on a rebound left to Raanta's right and poked home his third of the season at 9:04. 

Raanta finished with 21 saves on 24 shots in his relief effort, with one of his saves coming on a Nathan Paetsch penalty shot in the second period. Wednesday marks the second straight game Rockford replaced their starting goaltender early in the middle frame. Raanta was yanked 4:07 into the second period last Saturday during a 4-2 IceHogs loss in Utica. 

Rockford's power play came up empty in three attempts while the Griffins finished 1-for-2 with the extra man. The IceHogs are scoreless on the man advantage over their last three games, after scoring goals in nine of the 11 games prior to that. 

Sitting stagnant with 85 points, Rockford sits three points ahead of the Oklahoma City Barons for possession of fourth place in the AHL's Western Conference. The IceHogs will try to end their two-game skid as they return to the BMO Harris Bank Center for three straight, beginning with Friday's regular season finale with the Griffins. 

Next Home Game:
Friday, April 3 vs. Grand Rapid Griffins: Face-off is at 7 p.m. It’s Golf Rockford Night at the BMO as the first 1,000 fans into the building will receive an IceHogs “Jeff Cap” thanks to Bud Light. Doors will open at 5:15 p.m. for fans 21 and older to enjoy another Blue Flame Lounge pre-game party with live music courtesy of Justin “Boots” Gates.