ROCKFORD, Ill.-The Rockford IceHogs visit Milwaukee Friday night in what may be the biggest game of the 2021-21 campaign. At stake in this game is a potentially vast improvement in the Hogs’ playoff position. All it takes is a regulation win over the Admirals.
“We know what’s at stake on Friday,” said interim coach Anders Sorensen told Hogs broadcaster Joseph Zakrzewski following his team’s 6-1 victory at Iowa Wednesday. “We put ourselves in a good spot here.”
Rockford’s decisive win over the Wild sets up a showdown in Milwaukee, who is in third place in the Central Division by the slimmest of margins (.567 to .564 points percentage). A regulation win by the IceHogs assures them of third place. Meanwhile, a loss of any type keeps Rockford in the fourth-place spot. Should the Hogs triumph in overtime, they could still overtake Milwaukee. Though, they would need to garner at least a point in Saturday’s regular-season finale with the Chicago Wolves.
The difference between third and fourth place is a play-in series with the fifth-place Texas Stars, who won its last four games to earn a postseason berth. The Stars await the fourth-place team in a best-of-three series. Whichever team finishes in third place in the Central Division skips the play-in series and will take on Manitoba in a best-of-five slate.
The IceHogs have fared well at Milwaukee this season, with a 4-1 record at UW-Panther Arena. They have won three of the last four meetings between the teams, though the Admirals handed Rockford a 5-3 loss at the BMO Harris Bank Center in the most recent clash.
Heading into the contest, Milwaukee was handed some tough news when goalie Connor Ingram was recalled to the Nashville Predators on Wednesday. Ingram has been a formidable opponent in net for Rockford this season. In his place, the Hogs will likely be facing Devin Cooley, who is 0-2-1 against Rockford with a 3.62 goals-against average and an .874 save percentage.
Hogs goalie Arvid Soderblom is just 2-3-1 vs. Milwaukee this season. However, the rookie has played well in defeat, with a 2.39 goals-against average and a .923 save percentage. With so much at stake, it’s hard to bet against Soderblom getting the start Friday.
The IceHogs should have defenseman Alec Regula available after the young prospect was reassigned to Rockford on Thursday. In addition, the team’s leading scorers against the Admirals, Lukas Reichel (3 G, 7 A) and Dylan McLaughlin (2 G, 6 A), figure to be in the lineup. Andrei Altybarmakian (2 G, 5 A in ten games against the Admirals) was held out of the final period in Wednesday against Iowa. He may be a game-time decision Friday.
From battling their way into the Calder Cup Playoffs to earning a shot at leapfrogging Milwaukee, Sorensen is happy to see his young squad playing meaningful hockey at this stage of the season.
“For these young guys to be a part of those important games and learn how to handle it, it’s been good for their development,” he said.
Puck drop on Friday night in Milwaukee is scheduled for 7:00 pm Central time.
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