Teemu Pulkkinen turned in his second consecutive two-goal performance to help the Chicago Wolves earn a 5-4 win over the Rockford IceHogs on Saturday night at Allstate Arena to retain the Illinois Lottery Cup for the second consecutive season.
Veteran Brett Sterling — the league’s active leading goal-scorer — netted his 250th American Hockey League goal at 8:43 of the third period to snap the 4-4 tie in the teams’ final regular-season meeting. Captain Paul Thompson and defenseman Philip Holm accounted for Chicago’s other tallies. The Central Division champion Wolves and the IceHogs will meet in the first round of the Calder Cup Playoffs in a best-of-five series that begins Saturday, April 21, at Allstate Arena.
“May the best team win,” said Wolves head coach Rocky Thompson. “I know both teams are going to go to war. I like my team.”
The Wolves (42-22-7-4) opened scoring less than three minutes into the game when Pulkkinen blasted a shot from the top of the slot on a four-man power-play rush at 2:56.
Just 2:48 later, the IceHogs (40-28-4-4) tied the game when Anthony Louis produced a power-play tally. Rockford gained its first lead at 9:19 of the first period when Tyler Sikura scored.
The period ended in a 2-2 tie as Pulkkinen scored in a nearly identical fashion as his first goal – a blast on the rush from the top of the slot.
In the second period, Chicago took a 3-2 lead near the midway point of the period. On the rush during a power play, from the right circle Beau Bennett fed Tomas Hyka in the slot. Captain Thompson was screening Collin Delia (17-7-4) and tipped the puck for the go-ahead goal.
The IceHogs again tied the game, 3-3, just 1:01 later with Matthew Highmore netting Rockford’s second power-play tally of the game.
Robin Norell scored with 10 seconds to play in the middle frame to send the IceHogs to the dressing room with a 4-3 lead.
Holm collected his first goal in a Wolves sweater at 7:28 of the third frame to tie the game 4-4. Sterling gave Chicago a 5-4 lead just 1:15 later with a beautiful backhand as he streaked across the crease.
Max Lagace (14-5-2) made 37 saves for the victory while Delia stopped 18 shots.
The Wolves close out the regular season Sunday, April 15, with a 4 p.m. contest against the Manitoba Moose. The game will be televised on CW50.