Sunday, April 26, 2015

Idaho Steelheads Report: On the Brink Thanks to Clutch Utah Goalie

(Credit: Steve Conner)
John Mulhern returns once again for his immediate reactions to tonight’s Game 5 between the Idaho Steelheads and the Utah Grizzlies.

Utah behind a four goal outburst in the third period and another brilliant outing by goaltender Igor Bobkov won tonight’s Game 5 by a score of 5-2 to take a 3-2 series lead with Game 6 set for Monday back in Utah.

First Period

Not the worse start for the Idaho Steelheads tonight and really outside of having to kill a couple of penalties and one shift, Idaho had the exact start to the game they needed.

Two penalties early in the game gave Utah some 5-3 power play time plus extended 5-4 time as well, but Steelheads goaltender Chris Rawlings, who was getting his first ECHL playoff start, as well as the penalty killers did their job and help Utah off the board on those chances.

Idaho would get the first goal of the game for the fourth time in the series as Colton Beck would finish a nice transition passing play as Martin Lee forced a turnover at the center ice redline and Jefferson Dahl was able find a streaking Beck who was able to bury the shot at 10:48 of the frame.

One issue that Idaho has had in the series is the quick equalizer goal from the Grizzlies and that happened once again as just 17 second after the Steelheads took the lead, Connor Hardowa was able to get loose at the tip of the right wing circle and beat Rawlings to even the game at one goal apiece.

Another Slow Start Puts Texas Down 0-2 in Series with Rockford

(Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)
Two games into the Calder Cup defense and the Stars will face elimination on Wednesday in Rockford. A flat first period compounded into an overall flat effort in general as the IceHogs pasted Texas 4-1 in their own building.

"We have to come out stronger," said captain Maxime Fortunus. "We have to respond better in that aspect of the game."

Texas was already down 2-0 on the scoreboard by the first intermission after volleying just four shots at Rockford's Michael Leighton in the frame. The IceHogs sent 11 shots toward Jack Campbell, who was pierced by two.

The most curious aspect of the game was the depth left in the seats to wear suits and watch the game instead of playing. Scott Valentine, Kevin Henderson and Matej Stransky all saw their names in the scratch column this evening. Instead, Mattias Janmark played just his ninth North American pro game, and Mattias Backman drew in as the seventh defenseman.

Now the Stars have no choice but to sweep in Rockford or be eliminated in the first round for the first time in five years.

Here's the release:
Michael Leighton's 34 saves smothered the offense for the Texas Stars and led the Rockford IceHogs to a 2-0 series lead with a 4-1 win on Saturday night in Game 2 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals in front of 4,978 at Cedar Park Center.

Brett Ritchie scored the only goal for Texas off a rebound at 11:58 of the third to close the Stars deficit to 2-1, but Peter Regin buried a power play goal less than five minutes later to pull the IceHogs away for good. Jack Campbell suffered the loss in net, stopping 24 of 27 shots.

The series shifts to Rockford, Ill for Game 3 on Wednesday night at 7 p.m.

Garret Ross opened up the game's scoring midway through the first, fighting through a scrum of players and chipping in a puck that slipped through Campbell for his first of the playoffs. With two minutes remaining in the first, Tanner Kero sprung free down the left side and ripped a goal from the circle to make it 2-0 IceHogs.

After a scoreless second, Ritchie added his first of the postseason to cut into the Rockford lead, but that was the only offense the Stars could muster as Leighton settled in to make 30 of his 34 saves in the final two periods overall. Regin's power play strike was from the left circle at 16:17, and Brandon Mashinter added an empty-net goal with just under two minutes to play for his first of the playoffs and third point of the game.

The IceHogs finished 1-for-4 on the power play while the Stars went 0-for-3.

Tonight's lines:
Hulak-Morin-Rallo
McKenzie-Dowling-Ritchie
Ranford-Shore-Glennie
Dickinson-Janmark

Fortunus-Nemeth
Oleksiak-Gaunce
Meech-Honka
Backman

Campbell

Injuries, scratches, and notes:
Henderson, Troock, Smith, Ully, Valentine, Mangene, Stransky, Bystrom, Kiviaho (scratch)
Faksa (injury)

Tonight's attendance was 4,978.

AHL Gamesheet - Texas v. Rockford - April 24 2015

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Idaho Steelheads Report: Utah's Bobkov Steals Game 4 from Steelheads

Jesse Root (Credit: Steve Conner/Idaho Steelheads)
John Mulhern is back with his almost live article as the Idaho Steelheads returned home for Game 4 against the Utah Grizzlies in the Western Conference Quarterfinals on Friday night. Coming into the game, Idaho held a 2-1 lead in the series off the strength of a Jason Bast overtime goal in game one and a Patrick Cullity overtime goal in game 3.

The Utah Grizzlies defeated the Idaho Steelheads by a final score of 4-1 on the strength of superb goaltending from Igor Bobkov and timely scoring as the Idaho Steelheads directed 43 shots on net to Utah’s 20. The series is now tied at 2-2 with Game 5 set for Saturday night in Idaho.

First Period

The first period ended well for Idaho, but that’s not how it started. Just 1:20 into the first period, the Utah Grizzlies got in on a solid fore-check and caused a turnover and with the quick transition, Ryan Hayes was able to find himself all alone in front of Olivier Roy and he made no mistake burying the chance into the back of the net for a 1-0 Utah lead.

Gameday Preview: Stars v. Rockford IceHogs, Game 2

Texas Stars
40-22-13-1, 94 pts
#4 Western Conference
v.Rockford IceHogs
46-23-5-2, 99 pts
#5 Western Conference
Rockford leads 1-0

April 25th at 7:00 PM
Cedar Park Center, Cedar Park, TX

Texas pretty much has to win this game for a chance to advance to the second round. Last night's third period put the Stars in this hole and they will be looking to improve their discipline and overall composure to even the series at one.

“This is a huge one tonight. We pretty much have to win this one,” Brett Ritchie told Sean Shapiro of the Austin American-Statesman on Saturday morning. “I think we’re looking at this one as a do-or-die, and we’ll give it our best shot.”

As promised, Jack Campbell will get the start for Texas. It looks like Mattias Backman will shuffle out of the lineup for Derek Meech.

Stars injury/call up report:
Faksa (season-ending injury)

Website: icehogs.com
Blog (unofficial): Rockford IceHogs Fan Blog
Twitter: @goicehogs

Friday, April 24, 2015

Third Period Letdown Hands Rockford Game 1 Over Stars

(Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)
Unfortunately, the third period has been a bugaboo for the Stars agasint the IceHogs this season. That trend continued into the playoffs tonight as Texas ceded three goals in the final frame to lose by a 4-2 mark in the first game of their opening round playoff series.

Spencer Abbott, who has collected a point per game against Texas in his playoff career, continued that trend with two goals tonight at the Cedar Park Center. A third period 5-on-3 goal tied things up and set the stage for a game-winning tally by defensive D-man Kirill Gotovets, only his second career AHL goal of either the regular season or postseason.

The Stars gave the IceHogs two 2-man advantages in the final frame and were really just asking for trouble by putting themselves in that position for a total of over a minute in the frame.

Texas has one last shot at home against the Hogs Saturday before three in Rockford. If they leave Texas down 0-2, they may not make it back to the ice in Cedar Park until October.

Here's the release:
Three third period goals for the Rockford IceHogs was the difference in a comeback win over the Texas Stars to take Game 1 by a 4-2 final on Friday night in front of 4,375 in attendance at Cedar Park Center.

Spencer Abbott scored a pair of power play goals for the IceHogs, including the game-tying marker. Texas picked up goals from Curtis McKenzie and Julius Honka. Jussi Rynnas stopped 33 shots in net for Texas, while Michael Leighton made 33 saves in the win for Rockford.

Game 2 is Saturday night at Cedar Park Center at 7 p.m.

Abbott opened up the game’s scoring with the only goal of the first, snapping a wrist from the slot at 6:23 for his first of the playoffs.

In period two, Curtis McKenzie knotted things up for the Stars at 16:37, finishing off a rebound goal in a scrum at the front of the net with assists from Greg Rallo and Honka.

Honka put Texas in front, 2-1, burying a slap shot from the top of the right circle at 4:24 of the third for his first of the postseason, but the IceHogs would score three straight to overtake the Stars in the win. Abbott added his second of the night from the bottom of the left circle during a two-man advantage at 8:31. Kirill Gotovets tallied the game-winner on a one-timer at 12:19 from a behind-the-net pass by Phillip Danault.

Ryan Hartman added an empty-net goal for the 4-2 final.

The Stars went 1-for-4 on the power play while the IceHogs finished 2-for-6. The win snapped an eight-game playoff losing streak for Rockford.

Tonight's lines:
McKenzie-Morin-Rallo
Ranford-Dowling-Ritchie
Hulak-Shore-Glennie
Henderson-Dickinson-Stransky

Fortunus-Oleksiak
Nemeth-Gaunce
Backman-Honka

Rynnas

Injuries, scratches, and notes:
Meech, Troock, Smith, Ully, Valentine, Mangene, Bystrom, Janmark, Kiviaho (scratch)
Faksa (injury)

Tonight's attendance was 4,375.

AHL Gamesheet - Texas v. Rockford - April 24 2015

Gameday Preview: Stars v. Rockford IceHogs, Game 1

Texas Stars
40-22-13-1, 94 pts
#4 Western Conference
v.Rockford IceHogs
46-23-5-2, 99 pts
#5 Western Conference
Series tied 0-0

April 24th at 7:30 PM
Cedar Park Center, Cedar Park, TX

The Texas Stars welcome you to what Coach Laxdal calls "the best time of the year."

For the fifth time in six years, the Stars make the march to the postseason. With their hashtag as #DefendTheCup, Texas has a target on its back. Rockford is looking to claim the title of giant-killer by knocking off last year's champ in the first round.

With the series distance of 950 miles as the crow flies, Texas will start a best-of-five at home for the first time since the rule change came about. Texas missed the playoffs in 2011-12 and then was the top seed the past two seasons. As has been discussed here each of the past two years, it's paramount for the Stars to take these first two games.

If you want a case study in how important it is to win your home games, look no further than last year's debacle in Manchester. The top-seeded Monarchs decided to give up home-ice advantage and start at home. Norfolk managed to steal one game in New Hampshire and then take two in Virginia. With that, the top seed was out. It was shocking, but it showed how important home ice is. Texas needs to leave for Rockford on Monday with a 2-0 lead. That starts tonight.

The Stars have one unanswered question before morning skate and that's who will start in net. Jussi Rynnas and Jack Campbell both finished the year hot, but Coach Laxdal was mum on who will start Game 1 up to this point. He made his decision yesterday and told the starter last night. More will be known at morning skate.

The IceHogs and Stars are going to be a really tough battle. I spent a lot of time earlier this week talking about Texas peaking at the right time. In actuality, both teams are on incredible runs to end the season. Since March 15th, both teams are 13-4. One thing to note for the Hogs is the loss of a few players to black ace duty in Chicago. Goalie Antii Raanta and defenseman Kyle Cumiskey are both with the parent Blackhawks.

The fact that Raanta and Cumiskey are eating popcorn in the United Center press box instead of lacing up against Texas is a big benefit. Michael Leighton is no slouch, but Raanta was 8-1-1 this year with Rockford. If he were available, you'd have to imagine he'd be starting given he's a future NHL goalie for the Hawks.

Stars injury/call up report:
Hulak (probable)
Faksa (season-ending injury)

Website: icehogs.com
Blog (unofficial): Rockford IceHogs Fan Blog
Twitter: @goicehogs

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Jussi Rynnas Named Lone Star Grille/100 Degree Hockey Player of the Week

Rynnas sets franchise record for saves with 52 stops in San Antonio
(Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)
Every Thursday, 100 Degree Hockey will name the Lone Star Grille/100 Degree Hockey Player of the Week. Lone Star Grille features classic comfort food and Southern dishes less than five minutes from the Cedar Park Center. If you mention the Player of the Week or 100 Degree Hockey on your next visit to Lone Star Grille, your server will take $5 off your order of any two entrees.

So much for easing back in from injury. Despite playing just one game this week, Jussi Rynnas earned the Lone Stars Grille/Player of the Week  honors based on his Friday performance alone. Rynnas got a full workout on Friday, stopping a franchise record 52 shots against the Rampage. He added a win, his 22nd of the season, with the effort.

Rynnas was an unknown for the Stars at the beginning of the season. After the Finn spent a year in Europe, Jim Nill saw fit to pit him against Anders Lindback for the Dallas Stars' backup job. On a one-way deal, Rynnas ended up being the unlucky one, getting sent down to Texas after training camp. He didn't pout or mope like some who've been sent down in the past. On the season, he picked up a 22-6-8 record, which powered the Stars to the playoffs for the fifth time in six years.

Now Rynnas is in an interesting spot. In his absence, Jack Campbell played some of his best hockey in his pro career and is giving head coach Derek Laxdal a tough choice of who to start in the playoffs. Rynnas is in a unique situation as well of being on contract for a second year with Dallas also. Jack Campbell is viewed by many as the goalie of the future for the NHL squad. If Rynnas can grab the reins, can he ride that into the NHL backup job this coming season, ceding the Texas net to Campbell as well?