ROCKFORD, ILL – The Rockford IceHogs hosted the Texas Stars in game five of the 2018 Western Conference Final Friday night, with Rockford needing to win to force the series back to Texas.
The Stars came in sporting a three-games-to-one lead after taking the first three contests, but the IceHogs had then won game four to keep their season alive. Rockford looked to keep that momentum going and force the return trip to Cedar Park, but Texas did all it could to bring the series to a close Friday night.
Jeff Glass got the call between the pipes once again for Rockford, making his second-straight start after replacing Collin Delia before game four. Texas nearly doubled the Rockford shot count by the close of the evening, leading 41-21, but Glass allowed just one goal on the night. His play helped the IceHogs maintain an early lead and hold on for a 3-1 victory over the Stars, pulling them to three games to two in the series.
The first period opened with a good shift for the Stars, as they created the first chance of the game on a Travis Morin shot, but the IceHogs soon took over and put the Stars under pressure. Rockford had opened the scoring in each of the first four games of the series, and looked to make it five-for-five Friday. It would not take the IceHogs long to succeed in their endeavor, as just two minutes in they grabbed the 1-0 lead.
The IceHogs passed the puck around the Stars zone looking for a shot when Tanner Kero spied Viktor Svedberg open at the far point. Svedberg took the feed and slid it to back to Cody Franson who was setting up above the slot. Franson then wasted little time wiring a low shot through traffic which he slipped beneath Texas goalie Mike McKenna to make it 1-0 Rockford with 17:58 still to play in period one.
The IceHogs continued to pressure the Stars as they looked for a two-goal cushion for the first time in the series, and just 5:14 later they found their 2-0 lead. The marker came off the rush, when nobody in white saw Luke Johnson streaking open through the slot. Victor Ejdsell did see him, however, and quickly fired a pass to Johnson’s tape. McKenna slid out to challenge the shot, but Johnson immediately pulled the puck from backhand to forehand and easily deposited the biscuit into the basket. Johnson has now scored in three straight outings, as his fourth of the postseason made it 2-0 IceHogs 8:15 into the opening frame.
Texas would slowly start to gather steam over the final half of the first, but was unable to cut into the Rockford lead before the clock expired. The Stars held a slight 15-13 edge in shots after one period of play, but it was the IceHogs who took the 2-0 advantage into the first intermission.
Texas came out strong in the second period outshooting the IceHogs by a 14-6 margin in the middle frame, but the IceHogs defense did well to keep most of the shots to the perimeter of the zone. Texas kept searching for the breakthrough, however, and midway through the game the Stars finally got on the board.
The goal came off of a bit of a broken play when Brian Flynn sent a puck along the boards that popped up into the air before being gloved down by a Rockford defender. The puck then landed at the feet of Roope Hintz who guided it to Joel L’Esperance before cutting to the slot. L’Esperance then fired a shot towards goal, directing off an IceHogs skate in front before bouncing to the stick of Hintz. Hintz released a quick shot that beat Glass high to make it 2-1 Rockford with 10:43 still to play in the middle stanza.
Texas kept pushing, but would not find another tally before intermission, and Rockford took a 2-1 lead to the third period. The Stars still felt confident entering the final frame, however, as they had the momentum and have not afraid of a third period rally all postseason. Prior to game five, the Stars had trailed after 40 five times in the 2018 postseason, and had rallied to win three of them.
The third period seemed to be going down the same path as the three previous successful rallies, and the Stars had the IceHogs under pressure for the vast majority of the period. Rockford seemed content to try and defend its way to a 2-1 victory, but it felt like just a matter of time before the dam burst. The Stars outshot the IceHogs 12-2 over the final frame, and 26-8 over the final 40 minutes, but a comeback was not meant to be on this night.
The only goal of the third came on a fortunate bounce for Rockford against the run of play. With just under 8:00 remaining Matthew Highmore carried the puck into the Texas zone before dumping a soft arcing shot on goal. McKenna tracked the offering and tried to blocker it away from his net, but the puck took a strange bounce off his blocker and flipped up in the air and over his head before dropping into the net. The goal came with 7:47 left to play, and the Stars found themselves chasing a two-goal deficit instead of just needing one bounce of their own to tie.
Texas continued searching for a way to get back into the game, but ran out of time and fell by a final count of 3-1. With the win, Rockford keeps its season alive and trims the Texas lead to three games to two in the West Final. The series now moves back to the H-E-B Center at Cedar Park for game six Monday at 7:00 p.m. CT, and game seven on Tuesday if necessary.
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