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IceHogs Host Wolves With Playoff Implications

Photo Courtesy: Brad Repplinger/Rockford IceHogs

IceHogs Host Wolves With Playoff Implications

ROCKFORD, Ill.– The Rockford IceHogs host the Chicago Wolves on Tuesday night at the BMO Center in arguably the most important game of the season for both teams. The playoff hopes of the two clubs likely hinge on the result of this season’s final match-up between the Central Division rivals.

Heading into Tuesday, Rockford holds a one-point lead for the fifth and final postseason spot in the division standings. The IceHogs earned a split with Milwaukee this past weekend, while Chicago took three of four points with Iowa. This makes a close race for fifth even tighter. The IceHogs must finish ahead of Chicago to secure a playoff appearance, as the Wolves hold the tiebreaker with far more regulation wins than Rockford.

Chicago is currently on an eight-game point streak in which it has gone 6-0-2. The piglets are 5-5 over their last ten games and have dropped their final four against the Wolves. In those games, Chicago has outscored Rockford 17-5.

A regulation win over the Wolves is critical for Rockford, which has just two regulation wins at the BMO Center in its last 18 attempts. Those would be April 2 over Grand Rapids and December 31 against the Wolves. Following that 6-2 win, Rockford competed for the top of the division ladder and a full 15 points ahead of the Wolves in the standings.

Since then, the Hogs have gone 14-17-4-2, while Chicago has played at a 22-13-2-2 pace. The Wolves have a full head of steam coming into Tuesday’s showdown. The Hogs struggle to score consistently and must reverse the recent trend against a surging opponent.

The goalie match-up will have a lot to say about how Tuesday’s game plays out. Chicago will surely have Pyotr Kochetkov in the net to oppose the IceHogs. Kochetkov is 3-0 against Rockford with a 1.31 GAA and a .935 save percentage. He shut the out Hogs back on April 1, the last meeting between the teams.

Hogs netminder Arvid Soderblom, Tuesday’s likely starter, has been good, but not great, over the last six weeks. He’ll need to raise his game from his two previous starts against the Wolves this season. Soderblom is 0-1-1 with a 2.95 goals against average and a .885 save percentage. His last appearance against Chicago was a 3-2 overtime loss on January 28.

Soderblom and the Hogs’ defense will be charged with shutting down the Wolves’ top scorers. Malte Stromwall (15 G, 31 A) and Jamieson Rees (14 G, 28 A) each have five goals against Rockford this season. Rookie Vasily Ponomarev (23 G, 22 A) paces Chicago in goals and has eight points (4 G, 4 A) in his last five games.

In hopes of bolstering the roster, the Blackhawks assigned forward Lukas Reichel and defenseman Alex Vlasic to Rockford on Monday. Buddy Robinson was recalled to Chicago in a reciprocal move. Ironically, Robinson leads the IceHogs with four goals against the Wolves. Brett Seney (21 G, 30 A) and former Wolves forward David Gust (26 G, 30 A) each have three goals in the season series with Chicago.

The Hogs and Wolves finish the season with the same three opponents: Milwaukee, Grand Rapids, and Manitoba. Both teams conclude their schedules with Friday, Saturday, and Sunday games. It really comes down to how each team finishes against these common opponents. However, Tuesday’s showdown will go a long way toward deciding who plays on and who stays home following the regular season.

The action at the BMO Center is set to begin at 7:00 p.m. CDT.

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    Jon Fromi covers the Rockford IceHogs for Field Pass Hockey. Follow and interact with him on Twitter @FPHIceHogs.

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