Including the regular-season schedule, the Chicago Wolves and Utica Comets have met eight times this season. The Wolves have won twice in regulation. So have the Comets. The Wolves have won twice in overtime. So have the Comets.
The Comets have scored 18 goals. The Wolves have scored 17 goals. It’s painfully obvious the eighth-seeded Wolves and top-seeded Comets are as closely matched as two teams can be.
But here’s the odd thing for such a tight series: Friday’s Game 4 was the first time this season that both teams led in the same game during regulation. The suspense nearly slayed the sellout crowd at the Utica Memorial Auditorium, yet they cannot wait for more.
Utica didn’t put tickets on sale for Game 5 until Thursday, but as of 11 a.m. today there were fewer than 100 seats remaining. Despite the Comets’ overtime loss last night, fans were waiting in line at 8 a.m. to make sure they get to experience tonight’s winner-take-all atmosphere.
The Wolves took it easy this morning – at least the ones who are playing tonight. There was a five-minute video session before the scratches took the ice for an extensive practice designed to keep them sharp.
Head coach John Anderson didn’t need to remind his guys to refocus after last night’s emotional victory.
“Nothing changes,” Anderson said. “It’s about this game. It’s about this task at hand. It’s the same mentality. Once you get into that rhythm, that mentality, nothing should faze you as you go on. It’s a must-win situation every night. The consequences if we lose tonight are different, but we still play the same way and let the chips fall where they may.”
IF THE WOLVES WIN TONIGHT…
The Wolves will face either second-seeded Grand Rapids or fourth-seeded Rockford in the Western Conference Semifinals. Grand Rapids needs to beat Toronto tonight and tomorrow in order to advance.
If there’s a Chicago-Grand Rapids series, then the Wolves’ first two home games would be Saturday, May 9, and Monday, May 11. If there’s a Chicago-Rockford series, then the Wolves’ first two home games would be Friday, May 8, and Saturday, May 9. In both series, the Wolves’ other home game would be Saturday, May 16, if it’s necessary.
A COMPLIMENT FOR EDMUNDSON
When Joel Edmundson rifled home Friday’s game-winning goal on the power play from the bottom of the right circle, he was in a spot on the ice where left wing Magnus Paajarvi is usually stationed on the power play.
But Edmundson noticed that Paajarvi skated back toward the top, so he headed down low and waited for Shane Harper’s pass. Edmundson’s form must have been looked like Paajarvi’s because during last night’s postgame interview session, head coach John Anderson complimented Magnus for his poise.
“He was so calm with it,” Anderson said. “Awesome. Awesome.”
On Saturday morning, with only Anderson, Edmundson and one other person in the dressing room, Anderson was informed that Edmundson scored the goal. While the defenseman smiled, Anderson was asked whether he wanted to go ahead and hug Edmundson.
“No,” Anderson said. “He knows I love him.”
ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF THE WOLVES FAMILY ATMOSPHERE
Assistant coach Brad Tapper hasn’t gotten to see his wife, Alison, and their three children (Blake, Hudson and Addison) often this season. They have stayed in Toronto for school while Tapper has been in Chicago.
But Toronto is close enough to Utica that the family drove down on Thursday to enjoy some much-needed family time. They needed to drive back to Toronto at midday Saturday, so John Anderson excused Tapper from the morning skate so they could maximize their remaining time together.
Of course, Tapper fulfilled his coaching duties first. He stayed up until 2:30 a.m. breaking down the Game 4 video so he could conduct the pre-practice video session. Regardless, Tapper was grateful to have the extra 60-90 minutes with his family.
The Wolves do their best to accommodate those who are living away from their families. When the team had mid-week games at Toronto and Hamilton in early April, Tapper and defenseman Brendan Bell got to go home to Ontario two days early.
SOME RITUALS MUST ALWAYS BE OBEYED
It doesn’t matter how prized of a prospect you are or how much you have succeeded at levels below the AHL: If you’re the new guy on the team, you’re in charge of picking up the pucks after practice.
Defenseman Colton Parayko had to do it…and he has been a stalwart on the blue line since arriving from the Alaska Nanooks in March. Forward Robby Fabbri had to do it…and he scored 4 points in his first three games after arriving on April 15.
Now it’s Ivan Barbashev’s turn. The 19-year-old from Moscow stacked up 95 points in 57 games for Moncton this season — and then 13 goals in 16 playoff games — but he has been stacking up the pucks after all three skates since joining the team late Wednesday night.
One note: He may be 19, but he’s older than his years. Not only is he married, he showed up at Wednesday’s postgame dinner and immediately went around the room introducing himself and shaking everyone’s hand. Very respectful.