The Chicago Wolves didn’t enter Game 2 with a plan to turn their Western Conference Quarterfinals against Utica into a test of physical will.
But if you thought there was an increase in edgy demeanor, thorough checks and general rugged play during Friday night’s 2-1 Wolves win, that’s because there was.
The Wolves didn’t take their first official shot on goal until 11 minutes passed. By that time, both teams had exchanged several physical blows that signified the series was being cranked up a notch.
Not all of the action was legal – the Wolves had to kill six penalties in the first two periods – but it was certainly a hockey game between two teams who want desperately to reach the next round.
Considering Utica took Game 1, the Wolves needed to do that much more in Game 2 to get back into the best-of-five series.
“It’s the playoffs,” said Wolves head coach John Anderson. “You’re struggling for every inch out there. That’s the way it’s going to be. It’s playoff hockey. You shouldn’t expect anything less.”
The Wolves have their share of players who don’t mind battling for everything they get. Chicago hockey fans who watched the Blackhawks scrap to the 2010 Stanley Cup championship know how irritating forwards Adam Burish and Colin Fraser can be. Those two teamed up on the Blackhawks’ fourth line in 2010 – and they each lead a line for the Wolves today.
“Every year, you look forward to the playoffs,” said Burish, who played in just six postseason games (for the 2012-13 San Jose Sharks) between 2010 and 2015. “The competitiveness, the nastiness, the way the intensity picks up. It’s fun to play in that kind of competitiveness again.
“It certainly raises your level. It’s a professional hockey playoff game and that forces you to raise your level. Just the nastiness, the chippiness, everything’s just amplified a little bit. Everything’s a little louder, everything’s a little meaner. It’s always fun.”
Now the series shifts to Utica. The Wolves need to win two of the three potential contests – starting with Game 3 at 6 p.m. Wednesday – in order to advance. Look for the Wolves to try to stay the course.
“I thought we played a little harder (in Game 2),” Anderson said. “I thought we played a little quicker. Other than that, we really didn’t change a ton of things.”