CHICAGO WOLVES (40-19-5-3) AT GRAND RAPIDS GRIFFINS (38-19-6-4)
AND THEN THERE WAS 1
The Chicago Wolves need just one point to clinch the 20th playoff berth in the franchise’s 25-year history. The magic number is reduced each time the Wolves earn points, as well as each time teams outside the playoff picture fail to earn points. In order to clinch tonight, the Wolves need to earn at least one point against Grand Rapids or Manitoba has to lose in regulation at San Antonio.
The Wolves lead the season series with the Griffins 4-3 after winning the last three meetings and look to keep the streak alive tonight. To add even more excitement, the Wolves also are defending their spot atop the Central Division standings — Chicago continues to lead the division with 88 points while the Griffins are just two points back after topping Iowa 5-2 on Tuesday.
MORE THAN OK ON THE PK
The Wolves have killed off their last 20 short-handed situations — a stretch that has lasted nearly seven full games. Chicago hasn’t given up a power-play goal since Milwaukee’s Adam Helewka struck 2:16 into the March 10 game at Allstate Arena.
The penalty-kill unit’s recent excellence has pushed the Wolves into eighth place for the year at 82.8 percent. To put this into perspective, the Wolves ranked 28th in the league on PK at 75.6 percent when Nov. 24 dawned. That means Chicago has killed 140 of 162 short-handed situations (86.4 percent) over its last 50 games.
The Grand Rapids power play ranks 30th out of the 31 AHL teams, converting at just 14.5 percent. The Griffins’ power play improves at Van Andel Arena, however, with an 18.6 percent success rate at home.
SHOWING BETTER IN THE SECOND
The Wolves have shown marked improvement in the second period, a frame that gave them trouble earlier in the season. Despite outscoring teams overall, the Wolves trailed by as many as 11 goals (36-25) in the second period alone following the losing streak the team suffered at the end of November. The Wolves since have pulled within two goals (73-71) in second-period scoring on the season.
The Wolves are still making their biggest moves in the first period but, since the All-Star Break, Chicago has outscored teams 23-18 in the second period, including six multi-goal performances in the middle session.
BY THE NUMBERS
1: Heading into tonight’s matchup, the Wolves need just 1 point in eight remaining games to clinch the franchise’s 20th playoff berth in 25 years. Bakersfield (1) is the only other Western Conference team with the ability to clinch a playoff spot tonight. The magic number is reduced each time the Wolves earn points, as well as each time teams outside the playoff picture fail to earn points.
2.55: The Wolves are allowing the second-fewest goals per game in the AHL, giving up an average of 2.55 goals each contest. The Wolves have not given up more than two goals in a game since Cleveland tallied three on March 15. Wolves goaltender Oscar Dansk, the reigning CCM/AHL Player of the Week, has started the last five games for Chicago, allowing five goals while posting a shutout against San Antonio.
3: The Wolves’ prowess during even-strength play shows up in the league’s plus/minus ratings as Chicago owns the top three spots and four of the top five. Rookie defenseman Zach Whitecloud has taken over the league lead with his +38 while center Gage Quinney holds down second at +37. Forward Daniel Carr is third with a +35 while rookie defenseman Nic Hague is tied for fourth place with Syracuse’s Dominik Masin with a +30.
24: Left wing Curtis McKenzie has been one of the most productive and most consistent Wolves since the All-Star Break. In the team’s last 21 games, McKenzie has stacked up 10 goals and 14 assists as the Wolves have fashioned a 15-4-0-2 record. McKenzie’s goal against San Antonio on Tuesday was his 99th career AHL goal and extended his point streak to five games. Overall, he has looked remarkably similar to the standout who captained the Texas Stars to the Calder Cup Final last season and led all goal-scorers during postseason play.
53: The Wolves are outscoring their opponents by 53 goals this season (224-171), which trails only Syracuse and Bakersfield for the best goal differential in the AHL. Most of that advantage has been piled up during the first period, when Chicago has outscored its foes 76-45. Nobody in the AHL is close to that +31 margin.
67: With high-scoring right wing Brooks Macek forced to sit out due to an injury — his first absences from the lineup this season — top line left wing Curtis McKenzie becomes the only Wolves player who has suited up for all 67 games this season. McKenzie never has appeared in all 76 AHL games during his career, but he played 75 games in 2013-14 during his rookie season with the Texas Stars.
357: If you’ve suited up for the Wolves, chances are better than 50/50 that you’ve also played in the National Hockey League. When 19-year-old defenseman Erik Brannstrom made his NHL debut Thursday night for the Ottawa Senators, he became the 357th player (out of 621 Wolves all-time) who have competed for the Wolves and in the NHL. That 57.5 percent overall success rate is even higher among goaltenders. Of the 55 players who’ve tended the net for the Wolves over the years — starting with original goaltenders Ray LeBlanc and Wendell Young and continuing through current Wolves Max Lagace and Oscar Dansk — 38 boast NHL experience (69.1 percent).
THE NEXT THREE GAMES
All games are streamed on AHLTV.