Monsters, IceHogs Meet in Playoff Push

Two teams in similar situations will begin a two-game set tonight at Quicken Loans Arena when the Lake Erie Monsters (34-28-3-7) welcome in the Rockford IceHogs (34-29-2-6); seasons are potentially on the line, and it’s a must-win, playoff-type game for each team. The Monsters enter the game in 10th in the Western Conference, two points ahead of Rockford, who has a game in hand on the Monsters. The Monsters are a point back of the eighth and final playoff spot in the West- which is currently held by the Houston Aeros- and Rockford is three points out of eighth. A regulation loss for either team tonight has the potential to drastically decrease the playoff hopes of either team, so a sense of urgency and desperation has to be expected from both sides.

The Monsters, who are a perfect 2-0-0-0 against Rockford this season- with both games being played in Rockford- are coming off a record-setting 8-4 victory over the Texas Stars. Seven different players accounted for the eight goals registered by the Monsters; a total that eclipsed the previous record of seven goals, which had been achieved on seven occasions. Goal scoring had been the issue prior to Sunday’s offensive explosion against the Texas Stars, as the Monsters were blanked for the 11th time this season one night earlier on Saturday. Peter MacArthur led the way for the Monsters with a goal and three assists, as well as a plus-four rating in the game. Ryan Stoa also scored twice and totaled three points; Stoa now has two goals and three assists for five points over his last four contests.

Rockford and Lake Erie are coming from different directions into the game, however. The Monsters will hope to generate momentum from their convincing win Sunday, but the team is just 3-3-1-3 over their last 10 games, while the IceHogs are on a 5-0-0-1 streak, and are playing some of their best hockey of the season. Their recent six-game unbeaten-in-regulation streak includes wins over Houston on two occasions, Milwaukee twice, and Peoria; all teams currently in the playoff picture. Rostislav Olesz is the main player to watch for the Rockford IceHogs, as the forward has four goals and five points over his last three games, and possesses game-changing speed and stickhandling skills. Olesz was the seventh overall pick in the 2004 NHL draft by the Florida Panthers, and has 57 goals and 132 points in 355 National Hockey League games with the Panthers and Rockford’s parent club, the Chicago Blackhawks.

A four-game season-ending winning streak would likely do the trick for the Monsters as far as the playoffs are concerned, and tonight is step-one on that road. Just once this season have the Monsters won four consecutive games; between February 8th and February 15th, they scored victories on the road against Rockford and Peoria, and at home against Syracuse and Texas.

All of Friday night’s action can be heard live from Quicken Loans Arena on AM 1220 WHKW, and Saturday’s game can be heard live on ESPN 850 WKNR, as well as seen live on MY 43 THE BLOCK WUAB, with Doug Plagens calling the play-by-play.

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