The Chicago Wolves finished off the Iowa Wild 3-1 Wednesday night at Allstate Arena. The victory — coupled with the Manitoba Moose’s loss to the Rockford IceHogs — moved the Wolves past the Moose for first place in the Central Division.
Forwards Beau Bennett, Brandon Pirri and captain Paul Thompson all scored for the Wolves (38-21-7-2), who also cut their magic number for a Calder Cup Playoff berth to 7. Goaltender Oscar Dansk (10-1-2) made 27 saves en route to victory for a Wolves squad that held last place in the Central Division in early December.
“I give our group a lot of credit — from where we started to where we are right now,” said Wolves head coach Rocky Thompson. “They’ve persevered and they’ve battled and I think a lot of people probably would have never expected that. But our guys did a good job and I’m proud of what they’ve done to this point, but the work’s not done.”
After almost 37 minutes of scoreless hockey, the Wolves opened scoring at 16:43 of the second period. Tomas Hyka buzzed up the left wing into the Iowa zone as Teemu Pulkkinen and Bennett hurried to get in on the rush. Hyka tossed a pass through the slot to Bennett at the opposite dot for an shot that found its way behind Niklas Svedberg (18-15-6) for the 1-0 lead.
The Wild (30-23-9-6) netted the equalizer just 39 seconds later while the Wolves held the man advantage. Zack Mitchell broke up a point-to-point pass and outskated a pair of Chicago defenders to go in alone and score shorthanded on Dansk.
In the third period, Iowa’s Alex Grant jumped out of the penalty box — shifting the man advantage to a 5-on-4 in Chicago’s favor — and corralled a loose puck for a breakaway attempt. However, his plans were foiled as Pulkkinen and defenseman Zac Leslie kept pace and stripped him of the puck in the corner.
Pulkkinen came away from the scrum and carried the puck up ice — while the Wild attempted a line change — and caught Iowa with just one defender back. Pulkkinen held the puck until Pirri was in position at the right-side faceoff dot for a one-time shot into a wide-open net for the go-ahead power-play goal at 12:08.
Chicago put an exclamation point on its victory when Thompson potted an empty-net marker with 1:23 to play.