DES MOINES, Iowa - A bizarre night and a tale of two “halves” - so to speak - as Iowa drops their third game in a row and one spot in the standings. The good news from the evening came 286 miles away as the Milwaukee Admirals (Nashville) pummeled the streaking Rockford IceHogs (Chicago) to the tune of 5 to 2.
Niklas Svedberg (18-12-6; 2.63 GAA/.914 SV%) made the start in net for Iowa, stopping 34 of the Griffins 39 shots on net. In the second frame, the netminder made a costly mental error that appeared to kill any and all momentum for the home side as the flood gates opened and Grand Rapids notched four goals in less that two minutes and thirty seconds to close the period.
Tom McCollum (14-13-3; 2.85 GAA/.906 SV%) made another start for Todd Nelson and the Griffins, starting shakily, but stopped 25 of 28 shots from Iowa en route to his 14th win of the season.
“This time of year, we can’t afford (a losing streak) like that,” Captain Cal O’Reilly said afterwards. “There was about five to ten minutes were we just stopped playing...they tasted blood and came right at us....The good thing is that we get them again tomorrow night.”
High Paced Opener
It was a much different look to start this one as Iowa and Grand Rapids (Detroit) set up for what was meant to be an intense battle between the 3rd and 4th place teams in the Central Division - their ninth of ten meetings this season.
The defense came ready to play, and even though winning face-offs weren’t going in favor of the home side, Grand Rapids appeared to be helpless when it came to getting pucks though the slot, let alone to the blades of would be attackers.
Both sides flexed some muscle on their respective special teams units - both ranked in the top ten in the league in efficiency on both sides of the puck. However, to no avail on either sides as stonewalling ensued.
With a host of Wild players joining the writers in the press box, momentum hinged on a lot of the ATO signees joining the squad after wrapping up NCAA careers.
The first ten minutes saw Iowa getting the majority of the scoring chances, and the deadlock finally broke as Gerry “Baby Genius” Fitzgerald who threw a puck on net from a very tough angle that McCollum was unable to get his blocker up high enough to stop(Rau; 13:10). The prayer found the back of the net, and it was 1-0, Iowa.
The goal was the Bemidji State alums second of his short AHL season and Kyle Rau’s contribution marked his 20th assist of the season - the Eden Prairie Native’s 7th point of his current 6 game point streak.
The Floodgates Open
The message in the intermission must have been “stick with it” as Iowa did the same defensively to start the second frame as they did the first. It was slow on the offensive side of the puck, though it appeared as if Iowa was simply biding their time. A couple of penalties on the visitors provided a window of opportunity for a historic goal for the franchise.
Dylan McIlrath was the first culprit, being tabbed with an interference call against Fitzgerald. Iowa struggled to get some momentum, but once they got the puck to set up the offence in the Griffins end, Grand Rapids d-man Robbie Russo have a hell of a hack to the stick of captain Cal O’Reilly giving Iowa the 2-man advantage.
Some scary puck movement, but it was Pat Cannone who made a drop pass to the ever deadly Alex Grant at the point who released an absolute bomb that made it through traffic and popped McCollum’s netting for the second time tonight (Cannone, Beck; PP - 6:09).
The goal came as another milestone for the team celebrating their fifth season as a franchise - their 200th goal of the season. Iowa had previously been capped at 186 as the franchise best set last year under Lalonde in his first season behind the bench.
Despite dominating the first ten minutes of the period, tempers flared in the Iowa crease and the Griffins were able to score four goals in a span of two minutes and twenty-four seconds.
Following a delay of game penalty from Fitzgerald, Sveddy was called for his own - as he often does - by slashing Eric Tangradi for coming into his crease. With about 1:36 worth of 3-on-5 hockey for the Iowa penalty kill, it was Grand Rapids leading scorer, Matt Puempel launching a blast of his own from the point to cut Iowa’s lead in half (Street, Tangradi; PP - 15:56).
Fitzgerald came out of the box, but Rau remained serving the netminder’s folly. The Sollentuna, Swe. native stopped the first shot attempt from Russo, but a juicy rebound was up for grabs in the slot for two Griffins. Luke Esposito got there first, and lifted a backhander to tie things up (Russo; PP - 16:34).
Less than 45 seconds later, and at full-strength, it was Russo getting in on the score sheet again as he let a shot loose from the point that was re-directed by Zach Nastasiuk and in for the Griffins’ third unanswered goal of the frame.
And they weren’t done.
Tangradi had what looked to be an innocent puck behind Sveddy’s cage, but nobody coming to cover him. Despite Svedberg hugging his post, the Philly native potted his 27th goal of the season and extended the Grand Rapids lead to two (Campbell, Street; 18:20).
“It was frustrating, we just unraveled,” Lalonde said. “It’s a missed opportunity. We’re up (2-0), we’re playing great...We unraveled in every position in the last five minutes....We could’ve made plays there. Even on the tying goal, we just had a hyper back-check, missed assignment, and then all of a sudden we’re down 4-2....But I liked how the guys regrouped in the third.”
Iowa got the first thirty, but Grand Rapids dominated the last four of the second period. Ugly would be an extreme understatement.
A Hole Too Deep
Down two goals after an abysmal final four minutes of the second period, the Wild had their work cut out for them with 20:00 to play. It was a hard deficit to overcome, and Iowa had little jump to their offensive game to start the third frame - generating just a few shots within the first nine minutes of play.
But, as it goes, a freak occurrence allowed Iowa much needed relief whilst gasping for life.
Svedberg was completely bowled over by a couple of Griffins, but with no whistle. As much of the attention was being paid to his end of the ice, Colton Beck, Justin Kloos, and Sam Anas took advantage of the distracted Griffins defense. A few good passes, and Sammy returned to the goals scored column - his first since Mar. 3rd (Beck, Kloos; 9:26).
Unfortunately, a faux pas on the part of Kurtis Gabriel sent Grand Rapids back to the power play where the visitors potted their third of the night with the man-advantage and regained their two goal cushion. It was Matt Lorito down low near Sveddy who was able to put it away for the road club (Street, Puempel; PP - 11:54).
Iowa went with six attackers for the final 3:30 of the game, but to no avail and the Griffins jump Iowa in the standings by handing them their third loss in a row - the first time all season.
As a fan of the Wild - and as the postseason approaches - scoreboard watching becomes less of a hobby and more of a compulsion. Iowa dropped a heartbreaker tonight, though the streaking Rockford IceHogs also lost. However, Lalonde didn’t see that as a small mercy.
When asked if the Milwaukee win left Iowa feeling a bit lucky, Newsy couldn’t have been more resolute.
“No,” he stated. “I just feel like it’s a missed opportunity (with a) two-nothing lead.”
Apart from the final five minutes of the second period, Iowa played some great hockey. But - unfortunately, and literally - hockey is a game played for 60 minutes. There is good news though, and that Iowa doesn’t have the feel of a team that will hang their heads and pout at losing three straight.
They’ll be back tomorrow, and it should come as no surprise that they’ll be hungry to avenge a night like tonight.
Puck drop is scheduled once again for 7:00 CST on Alex Stalock bobblehead night at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.