Not long ago, a 3-1 deficit in a best-of-seven series felt insurmountable. Might as well go through the motions, turn out the lights and trudge home.
The last 24 months have proven there’s no reason to give up.
The New York Rangers rallied to win the final three games of their 2015 Eastern Conference Second Round series against the Washington Capitals.
The NBA’s Golden State Warriors rallied from a 3-1 deficit to take the 2016 Western Conference Finals away from the Oklahoma City Thunder – only to squander their own 3-1 advantage in the 2016 NBA Finals to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
And, of course, the Chicago Cubs spotted a 3-1 advantage to the Cleveland Indians last fall before rallying to capture the franchise’s first World Series title in 108 years.
So why shouldn’t the Chicago Wolves have faith as they head into Saturday’s Game 5 of the Central Division Finals against the Grand Rapids Griffins at Allstate Arena?
“You’ve just got to worry about the next game,” said Wolves center Alex Friesen. “That’s what everybody’s mindset is right now. I think we all are confident in the team that we have and we’re confident that we can come back.”
FRIESEN IS THE IRON MAN
Not only did he appear in all 76 regular-season games – becoming the first Wolves player to achieve that feat since Jordan Schroeder in 2011-12 – Friesen has appeared in all nine postseason games for a total of 85.
(By the way, Wolves rookie forward Samuel Blais ranks second with 84 games and defenseman Morgan Ellis shares third at 83 games with Toronto’s Andreas Johnsson and Andrew Campbell).
What has been the secret to Friesen’s longevity?
“I don’t know,” he said. “I really don’t. Because injuries happen and I guess I’ve just been kind of lucky. The game before the All-Star Break, I hurt my knee a little bit. If we’d had a game the next day, I might have been out, so it was just good timing.”
FRIESEN AND MacEACHERN TEAMING UP
It’s risky to use statistics as the only barometer of a player’s worth, but center Alex Friesen and rookie left wing Mackenzie MacEachern have stepped up their production during the Calder Cup Playoffs while working together on the Wolves’ third line.
Friesen posted 12 points with a +3 plus/minus rating in 76 regular-season games, but has delivered one goal and three assists with a +2 plus/minus rating in nine postseason games. MacEachern contributed 11 points and a +9 plus/minus rating in 55 regular-season games, but owns two goals, one assist and a team-high +4 plus/minus rating in Calder Cup play.
MacEachern notched both of his goals against Grand Rapids. The Troy, Michigan, native produced the game-winning goal in Game 2 at Allstate Arena, then added another goal in Game 3 at Grand Rapids in front of plenty of friends and family.
“I’m feeling good,” MacEachern said. “I’ve stuck to my role and trying to do the little things well – be physical and open things up a bit. I’ve gotten a couple opportunities to put the puck in the net and build a little confidence, but I’m just trying to help the team be in a better spot.”
One of the underrated aspects of being the home team – as the Wolves will be for Game 5 and, hopefully, Game 7 – is the chance for head coach Craig Berube to get the last line change. The MacEachern-Friesen-Scooter Vaughan line knows it’s out there to deal with Grand Rapids’ top lines.
“Just be hard on the forecheck and be hard on the puck,” MacEachern said. “My mind is definitely defense-first, but if we get an offensive chance, we want to capitalize. Definitely defense-first because if you get caught cheating against them, they’re going to make you look silly.”
“I think we’re just trying to play a simple hard game,” Friesen said. “I don’t think we’ve really changed much from the regular season. The best defense is having the puck. If you have the puck and keep it in their end and create chances, that’s the best way to limit their opportunities.”