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Better Starts to Avoid An Abrupt Stop

There are never any guarantees that regular-season performance will carry over into the postseason. That’s one of the things that make the Calder Cup Playoffs so exciting – and so potentially frustrating.

Think about it: Thirty AHL teams fight and scratch and claw for six full months to earn spots in the postseason. The 16 teams fortunate enough to make the playoffs then are asked to compete in a best-of-five series that is the definition of a small sample size.

Why bring this up as the Chicago Wolves and Charlotte Checkers prepare for Game 4 of the Central Division Semifinals on Tuesday night at Allstate Arena? Because the first three games of this intriguing series have not reflected what the teams accomplished during the regular season.

For starters, the Wolves beat the Checkers six out of eight times from November 22 through April 15 – but the Checkers have won two of the first three playoff games.

More specifically, check out how their roles have reversed in first-period play. During the 76-game regular season, the Wolves outscored their opponents by 20 goals while the Checkers got outscored by 19 goals.

But in Game 1 of the playoffs, the Checkers built a 1-0 lead that developed into a 4-0 victory. In Game 3, the Checkers built a 2-0 first-period lead that became a 4-3 overtime victory. In Game 2, the Wolves took a 1-0 first-period lead that became a 3-2 win.

What gives?

“We just need to play the way we played in the second and third periods,” said Wolves forward Jordan Caron. “We played solid then. We need to create that energy ourselves. It comes from us. It’s on us to get going early and get the start we want. We’ve just got to keep it simple. We just tried to be a little too cute in the first period on Sunday.”

“Our starts have got to be better,” said Wolves forward Kenny Agostino, who contributed a goal and an assist in Game 3 on Sunday. “Overall, we love our game. It just took a little time for us to find it (Sunday), which you can’t do in the playoffs.”

Agostino’s “we love our game” viewpoint is shared by everyone in the Wolves locker room. On Monday, knowing his team needs to win Tuesday and Wednesday to advance in the playoffs, head coach Craig Berube held a closed-door team meeting. Was it a fire-and-brimstone speech designed to fire up the boys? Nah. It lasted less than three minutes because the coaches and players have created an environment where they believe in each other and have each other’s backs.

One small example: Wade Megan runs a hockey camp in his native upstate New York called North Country Skill Development. Jared Nightingale and Scooter Vaughan are working together for a Great Lakes Hockey Camp that will happen in June at the Triphahn Ice Arena in Hoffman Estates.

They passed out some caps promoting the camps to their teammates. Ever since, whenever Wolves players are asked to do an interview on-camera, they always try their best to wear a No Co or a Great Lakes cap in order to help out their buddies.

“We have a really great group of guys,” Caron said. “The coaches are great, the trainers are great, everybody’s close. It’s a blast to come to the rink every day.“

But here’s another truism of the Calder Cup Playoffs: Only one team gets to hoist the cup. For the other 15 teams, the season comes to an abrupt stop before anybody wants it to occur.

“I don’t think it’s going to end,” Caron said. “This team we have here — you can sense there’s something special in our team.”