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The Rockford IceHogs enter the final weekend of the American Hockey League’s regular season still looking to lock down a spot in the Calder Cup Playoffs. They took four out of a possible six points last week, including two in a massive win over the Chicago Wolves, to have a three-point cushion for the final postseason berth in the Central Division.
Last weekend started with a 3-2 win at the Milwaukee Admirals. The IceHogs were led by two goals from former Admiral Rocco Grimaldi and a 28-save effort by goaltender Arvid Soderblom. The rematch in Rockford the following night saw the IceHogs get 46 shots on goal, but even that wasn’t enough as they lost 5-1 thanks to a Herculean effort from Devin Cooley in net.
The BMO Center hosted the biggest game of the regular season on Tuesday night as the Wolves came to town. When the Chicago Blackhawks recalled Lukas Reichel on March 2, the IceHogs had an 11-point lead on the Wolves for the last playoff spot. That lead evaporated to a single point heading into Tuesday’s clash. This led the Blackhawks to return Reichel and defenseman Alex Vlasic to Rockford on Monday.
Rockford dominated their must win-game, beating the Wolves 6-3 while outshooting them 39-16. Luke Philp was the hero for racking up a hat trick, his 26th, 27th, and 28th goals of the season. He also had an assist for a four-point night. Michal Teply continued his strong end of the season with a goal and two assists. The returning IceHogs, Reichel and Vlasic, each had an assist in their first game back.
The roster got more of a boost before the start of the busy final weekend. On Thursday, Gavin Hayes signed a professional tryout contract (PTO). The 18-year-old forward was drafted with the third-round pick acquired from the Montreal Canadiens in the Kirby Dach trade. He had 41 goals and 81 points in 66 OHL games for the Flint Firebirds, setting career highs in all categories. On Friday morning, the Blackhawks reassigned forwards Joey Anderson and Buddy Robinson to the IceHogs.
The IceHogs will play three games over the next three days. They have a three-point cushion over the Wolves for the final playoff spot, and they are one point behind the Iowa Wild for fourth place. The best they can finish is fourth place, which means they would have home-ice advantage for the three-game play-in series, with the winner moving on to play the Central Division champion in the next round.
The Wolves and IceHogs play the same three teams this weekend. Rockford travels to the Grand Rapids Griffins on Friday, hosts the Manitoba Moose on Saturday, and wraps things up at the Admirals on Sunday. Chicago is in Milwaukee Friday before returning home to host the Griffins and Moose. The Wild finish their season at the Texas Stars Saturday and Sunday, who are trying to lock down the division title.
The IceHogs can clinch a Calder Cup Playoff berth as early as tonight if they beat Grand Rapids and the Wolves lose in regulation to Milwaukee.
Photo credit: Brad Repplinger (Rockford IceHogs)
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