With the Stanley Cup in the building, the Rockford IceHogs (10-4-1-2) dispatched the Lake Erie Monsters (10-4-0-2), taking a 3-1 decision and snapping the visitors’ four-game winning streak.
A sold-out crowd of 6,334 packed the BMO Harris Bank Center Sunday afternoon to take in a tightly contested thriller.
Sonny Milano and Daniel Zarr combined for the first bona fide scoring chance of the contest nearly 16 minutes in. Milano gained the slot in the Rockford zone and flipped a saucer pass to the stick of Zarr, but Michael Leighton laid down his right pad along the ice to turn away the wrister.
Three IceHogs rookies combined to put the home team up late in the opening stanza. Dane Walters gathered up the rebound of an Erik Gustafsson shot and slid the puck through the five hole of Joonas Korpisalo for his first goal of the season at 16:55. Josh Brittain tallied the secondary assist on the goal, earning his first point as a member of the IceHogs after signing a PTO on Friday.
Neither team found their way on to the score sheet during the second period, but the middle frame was not without chances for each squad. Jake Dowell tucked a drop pass to Nolan Valleau, but the attempt from the defenseman from the left circle was snatched out of the air by the glove hand of Korpisalo midway through the period. Dowell also saw himself sprung on a breakaway chance, but the puck rolled on him right before he could manage a shot.
With Rockford on the power play with less than five minutes to play in the second, Michael Chaput fed Markus Hannikainen on the backdoor, but Hannikainen squandered the chance, punching the puck just wide of the left post.
A pair of the most experienced players on the IceHogs roster combined for a key insurance goal 6:19 into the final frame. Immediately after Brittain got the gate for interference, Daniel Paille dug the puck out of the end boards and spun a pass to an unmarked Dowell in the slot, who pumped home a shorthanded goal under Korpisalo to double the lead to 2-0.
Derek DeBlois spoiled the shutout bid for Michael Leighton with 8:49 to play in the game, tipping a Jaime Sifres centering pass past the netminder’s outstretched blocker for his second goal of the campaign.
Lake Erie appeared to have tied the match up just over halfway through the third when Zaar ripped a shot along the ice past a down-and-out Leighton. Kirill Gotovets appeared just in the nick of time and pulled the puck off the goal line to preserve the lead for Rockford.
After Pierre-Cedric Labrie and Oleg Yevenko engaged in a spirited bout, the Monsters pulled Korpisalo in favor of the extra attacker and a possible game-tying goal. Ryan Hartman had other plans, though, and stripped the puck loose at center ice before depositing it into the net from long distance to seal the win for the IceHogs.
Leighton turned aside 28 shots in the victory while Korpisalo stopped 28 in the loss.