ABBOTSFORD, B.C. - Henrik Karlsson played like he had something to prove Friday night, whether he admits it or not.
The Rockford netminder made 33 saves as the IceHogs defeated the Abbotsford Heat 5-2 in American Hockey League action.
Karlsson was playing against the Heat for the first time since the Calgary Flames dealt him to the Chicago Blackhawks during NHL training camp in January. Karlsson played four games during a conditioning stint in Abbotsford last season and after losing the battle to be Mikka Kiprusoff's backup was deemed expendable.
However, the Swede, who has a personal four-game winning streak, insists the game had no additional significance.
"It was fun to see a couple of guys I played with in Calgary before, but other than that, it wasn't anything special," said Karlsson.
Thirteen of his saves came in the second period, including a power play in which Ben Street had two quality one-timer opportunities that Karlsson came across to stop.
"I just saw the pass, and I thought somebody was coming there, and I just tried to get there," said Karlsson. "The puck hit me a couple times, and it was almost like some kind of joke. I didn't see the player even — it just hit me there. But I got a good push a couple times there, and if you battle, the puck will hit you."
Street found it hard to believe he was able to get across.
"I guess for him that's the benefit of being six foot six," said Street. "It seemed like he had a go go gadget arm that just came flying out there and got it. You can't ask for much better chances than that. Usually I bury those but tonight it didn't go for me."
Martin St. Pierre had a goal and two assists to lead the Ice Hogs offensively. Rostislav Olesz had a goal and an assist in this first game of the season with the IceHogs, while Steve Montador, Brandon Svendsen and Brad Mills also scored for Rockford (33-28-2), who leapfrogged Abbotsford for eighth place in the Western Conference standings.
Rockford has now won 11 of its last 14 games.
Carter Bancks and Greg Nemisz scored for the Heat (29-28-9), who have won just once in their past six games and have fallen out of the playoff picture. Most teams have games in hand of the Heat.
"We have 10 games left," said Street. "We might need to go 10 for 10. The urgency is in the room."
Barry Brust made just eight saves before getting the hook in the second period in favour of Danny Taylor, who made 13 stops in relief.
Rockford opened the scoring at 7:23 of the first. Svendsen made it look like he was going to split the defence but then wired a shot from the slot that beat Brust blocker side.
It looked like the Heat were going to tie the game up a few minutes later. Sven Baertschi's shot from the slot was stopped by Karlsson but with the netminder out of position for the rebound, it was the defenceman Montador that blocked Baertschi's rebound attempt, keeping the IceHogs up 1-0.
"Hank (Karlsson) and I were laughing about that, because it actually happened once in my first game here," said Montador, who was playing just his third game of the season since joining the IceHogs on loan. "I was so pumped to make that, because he saved me a handful of other times. If we can block shots and save a goal . . . I mean, he stood on his head tonight for us."
The IceHogs went up 2-0 with just 10 seconds remaining in the first period. Ben Smith took a pass from the corner and fed it to St. Pierre down low. St. Pierre threw the puck over to Olesz but the Czech winger kicked it back to Pierre, who fired the puck into an open net for his 21st of the season.
Rockford chased Brust from the net at 2:11 of the second period, scoring on the game's first power play. Montador one-timed a feed from St. Pierre, beating Brust top shelf.
Nearing the game's midway mark Street had his two power-play chances, and the saves appeared to be a turning point since moments later Street was forced to haul down Mills on a short-handed breakaway, resulting in a penalty shot at 9:22.
Mills quickly beat Taylor blocker side with a nifty deke to his backhand, giving him three goals on the year.
"Hank played really well," said Heat head coach Troy Ward. "He made some great saves, especially taking away the low part of the net. Some of our looks that's all we could get. But at the same time ... we can make the other goalie look pretty good. You have to put it two ways: he played well but sometimes our looks are what they were and don't make much of them."
Bancks got the home team on the board with a short-handed goal of his own. After missing the net on a breakaway on the same shift, Bancks took advantage of Dylan Olsen's broken stick and raced away on Karlsson, beating him glove side for his fourth of the season.
Nemisz deflected Joe Callahan's point shot with just 35.6 seconds left in the second period to draw the Heat to within two.
The comeback attempt was squashed when Olesz buried a rebound into an open net at 14:02 of the third.
Notes: St. Pierre's assist on Montador's goal made him the all-time leader in power-play assists in franchise history.