Chicago Wolves center Spencer Smallman posted two short-handed goals in the third period to forge a tie, but Rockford’s Mike Hardman scored with 47 seconds left to give the IceHogs a 4-3 victory Tuesday night at Allstate Arena.
Rookie center Vasili Ponomarev added his first North American professional goal for the Central Division champion Wolves (46-15-5-5), who outshot the IceHogs 18-5 in the third period and 47-28 overall.
“I think our third period was good, but our first two were stinkers,” said Wolves head coach Ryan Warsofsky. “The lesson is, If we develop bad habits, that will translate into Game 1 of the playoffs and we’ll go home real soon. Hopefully that’s a lesson that we take. We’re going to wrap that third period up and that’s how we have to play the next five games.”
Rockford (35-26-4-1), which dropped its magic number to 3 for a Calder Cup Playoff berth, opened the scoring 5:09 into the night when defenseman Isaak Phillips shoved home a rebound after goaltender Jack LaFontaine stopped Phillips’ first attempt at close range. The IceHogs boosted their lead to 2-0 on Mike Hardman’s quick blast from the left faceoff circle at 14:18.
The Wolves slashed the deficit in half at 17:22 of the second on Ponomarev’s first goal in his seventh AHL game. He collected a Josh Jacobs pass behind the Rockford net and sent a backhand pass toward Jamieson Rees breaking toward the net. IceHogs defenseman Wyatt Kalynuk got his stick in the way and tapped it just across the goal line, though it took four minutes of discussion and official review to determine it was a good goal.
The IceHogs responded with Andrei Altybarmakian’s power-play goal from the top of the left circle with :00.3 remaining in the second.
Chicago pulled within 3-2 on Smallman’s short-handed goal at 9:46 of the third. Moments after a delay to clean up Rockford goaltender Cale Morris’ vomit just outside the crease, Jacobs fired a wrister from the left faceoff circle and Morris left the rebound in the slot. Smallman pounced on it, moved to a better angle and flipped a backhand home.
On Rockford’s next power play, Smallman claimed possession of the puck in the defensive zone and headed down the left wing while Jack Drury raced down the right side for a 2-on-1 opportunity. Smallman faked a pass to Drury, then roofed a shot over Morris for a 3-3 knot with 5:45 left in regulation.
Rockford earned the game-winner with 46.4 seconds to go. Rockford dumped the puck down the ice to the back wall and the IceHogs’ Evan Barratt picked it up behind the net, found Hardman breaking toward the net for a quick strike.
Morris (2-3-0), who graduated from South Elgin High School, recorded 44 saves in the win. LaFontaine (2-3-4) made 24 stops.
The Wolves travel to Grand Rapids on Friday night before hosting Milwaukee at 7 p.m. Saturday for First Responders Night and Grand Rapids at 3 p.m. Sunday for Papa Johns Family Sunday. The first 5,000 fans to enter Allstate Arena Sunday receive a set of Wolves Trading Cards, courtesy of Vienna Beef. To get the best seats for the regular season or postseason, contact a team representative at WolvesTix@ChicagoWolves.com.