10 observations: Rockford IceHogs drop Game 1 to Chicago Wolves

·6 min read

10 observations: IceHogs drop Game 1 to Chicago Wolves originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

The Rockford IceHogs fell to the Chicago Wolves 6-2 in Game 1 of the Central Division semifinals on Thursday at Allstate Arena.

Here are 10 observations from the loss:

1. The Wolves finished the regular season with 110 points, which was by far the best record in the AHL. No other team cracked the century mark, so this series will be an uphill battle for the IceHogs even though they went 8-3-0-1 against the Wolves this season, including a 5-0-0-1 record at Allstate Arena. And we saw why in Game 1, with the Wolves outshooting the IceHogs 38-20.

"On to the next now," Ian Mitchell said. "Clearly we weren't on our game and they were. They're a good team. You've got to have a short memory in the playoffs."

2. The Wolves controlled the pace of play right from the opening puck drop, and at one point were outshooting the IceHogs 12-3. But it was the IceHogs that got on the board first after Lukas Reichel forced a turnover at his own blueline on former Blackhawk Richard Panik and scored on a breakaway.

"It was a little bit weird, I almost lost the puck on the board because there was so much snow there," Reichel said. "And then I looked and saw I had a breakaway. I did the move a couple times in the past. I know it works sometimes. This time I'm glad it worked but it didn't help us today, so it doesn't matter."

Curious to see how the Blackhawks' top prospect performs in this series. He was absolutely terrific against the Wolves in the regular season with 15 points (five goals, 10 assists) but the playoffs are a different beast, and Chicago's game plan will be centered around containing Reichel. So far, so good.

3. The IceHogs looked like they were going to sneak away with a 1-0 lead after the first period, but then they allowed a pair of back-breaking goals with under a minute to go. The Wolves scored their first goal with 55.1 seconds left and and their second with 9.1 seconds left to go ahead 2-1, and it was their game to lose the rest of the way. If Rockford escapes that period with 1-0 lead, it probably would've changed the entire complexion.

"We were up 1-0 and they were pushing us pretty hard," interim head coach Anders Sorensen said. "I think if we come out of that period, it's a different game, definitely. But unfortunately that didn't happen."

4. Arvid Soderblom stopped 69 of 70 shots in the two first-round wins against Texas. He's been really good all season, where he ranks No. 9 among AHL goaltenders with a .919 save percentage. He was tested early and often in this game and stopped the first 16 shots he faced before giving up five goals on his next nine shots, although he was hardly to blame for them. The only one he'd probably want back is the second goal, which was a stuff attempt on the power play. I know Soderblom's NHL numbers weren't great this season — in a very small sample size, no less — but I would not draw any conclusions from that. Looks like he's got legitimate starting potential.

5. Cale Morris replaced Soderblom in goal to start the third period with the IceHogs trailing 5-1. He gave up a goal on his second shot against but then stopped the next 11. The goalie pull was nothing more than trying to change up the momentum and giving Soderblom a breather, not performance-based.

"Arvid was really good there early on," Sorensen said of Soderblom. "He's been great. He needed a little rest."

6. The IceHogs paraded to the penalty box 10 times, four of which came in the first period. The Wolves capitalized on two of their seven opportunities — three of Rockford's penalties were coincidental minors. This is a Wolves team you can't give freebies to, and Rockford did that. You can bet staying out of the box will be one of the main messages going into Game 2.

"Yeah, for sure, right?" Sorensen said. "We have to go north a little bit quicker, we have to get in on the forecheck a little bit quicker. We put ourselves in some tough spots today."

7. Despite trailing 5-1, the IceHogs had a chance to give themselves a little bit of life towards the latter stages of the second period when they were awarded a 5-on-3 power play for a minute and a half. They then had about 35 seconds of 5-on-4 time, and actually got better looks on the one-man advantage than the two-man advantage but came away empty.

8. It's clear secondary scoring is an issue for the IceHogs, who are pretty dependent on Reichel's line to produce. The fact they've gotten this far is a testament to how they've scratched and clawed their way here without having the kind of depth to compete with the top AHL teams, and doing so with an inexperienced back end. I also think it's why GM Kyle Davidson has declared a rebuild, to replenish the pipeline and give both Rockford — and eventually the Blackhawks — some more ammo.

9. The fourth line of Kurtis Gabriel, Garrett Mitchell and Dmitry Osipov took the opening faceoff for the IceHogs, and all three of those players are wrecking balls. They clearly wanted to set the tone physically, and things did get chippy towards the end of the second period. Evan Barratt, who scored Rockford's second goal, seemingly found himself in the middle of every scrum.

"We want to play physical," Barratt said. "We think that's kind of our strongest part of our game. We have three guys on the fourth line that I don't know if anyone really matches up against them. We feed off of them. I thought they were very good for us, and we couldn't really follow the rest of the group but we're excited to keep playing off of them."

10. Josiah Slavin led the IceHogs with three shorthanded goals during the regular season, and he nearly added another in the playoffs that would've cut their deficit to 6-3 in the middle of the third period but Wolves defenseman Joey Keane made a terrific play with his stick to deny him at the goal line.

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