It’s tempting for any sports fan to witness a gut-wrenching loss — such as the Chicago Wolves’ loss to the Utica Comets in two overtimes on Wednesday night – and conclude there’s no way a team can come back.
But the Wolves and their fans don’t need to search long to discover a Game 1 overtime loss doesn’t knock a team out. Just look at last year’s Western Conference Quarterfinals series between the Wolves and Rochester.
The second-seeded Wolves took Game 1 at Rochester on Dmitrij Jaskin’s overtime goal – a loss doubly painful for the Americans because the Wolves scored twice in the final five minutes just to get to overtime.
Did Rochester fold up? No, it did the opposite. The seventh-seeded Amerks redoubled their effort and claimed Game 2. Then they nearly stole the series as the Wolves had to rally in the third period of Game 5 in order to advance.
Head coach John Anderson reminded his players of exactly that when the Wolves closed their dressing room door for a brief meeting Thursday. Expect his charges to redouble their effort from the outset of Game 2, which starts at 7 p.m. Friday at Allstate Arena.
“The first five minutes are so important,” Anderson said, “to let them know that we’re not quitting.”
Actually, the Comets are probably well aware of this fact – based on the way the Wolves rallied from a 2-0 deficit in the third period Wednesday night. Left wing Magnus Paajarvi scored both of Chicago’s goals, including his game-tying snipe from the right faceoff dot with 0:01 left in regulation.
“I saw the clock running down,” Paajarvi said. “I knew there wasn’t a whole lot of time, so I gave it all I had and it went in.”
Turns out Paajarvi had done that to Utica goaltender Jacob Markstrom before. On May 5, 2012, when Paajarvi skated for Oklahoma City and Markstrom for San Antonio, Paajarvi’s goal with 10 seconds left forced an overtime that the Barons won.
Gradually between May 5, 2012, and April 22, 2015, Paajarvi fell out of favor with NHL teams and that enabled him to join the Wolves on Dec. 30. But the Swede just turned 24 and has displayed a tendency for being the best player on the ice, which suggests there are bigger things in his future once the 2015 Calder Cup playoffs are through.
In his last 13 games, Paajarvi has piled up 8 goals, 8 assists and a +4 plus/minus rating. In Game 1, Paajarvi was flying from start to finish. He served on the power play and the penalty kill. His combination of speed and strength was tough to match.
Yet in the quiet postgame dressing room, Paajarvi thought about what he (and the team) can do better in Game 2.
“It’s such small margins when it’s the playoffs, but it’s such a big difference between having big smiles on your faces or heads hanging,” he said. “We just have to reload and recharge. We played pretty solid. We should have been a little bit more desperate. The coin fell on their side (Wednesday), but we’re definitely going to be better and give them a good battle Friday.
“I hope I can do better so we can get this ‘W.’ I’ve got to look at myself in the mirror and see what I can do better. I’m sure every guy is going to do that and I think we’ll be good.”