GRAND RAPIDS GRIFFINS (0-0) AT CHICAGO WOLVES (0-0)
EVERYONE’s GOAL: THE CALDER CUP
Tonight’s contest opens the fifth AHL postseason series between the Chicago Wolves and Grand Rapids Griffins — and the sixth postseason series overall since the Griffins joined the Wolves in the International Hockey League prior to the 1996-97 season.
The Wolves have won the last four meetings between the Central Divison rivals and came up victorious in five of the eight matchups in the regular season. Chicago outscored Grand Rapids 29-23 during the regular season and excelled on special teams against the Griffins — the Wolves’ power play converted at a 24.2 percent rate (8 of 33) against Grand Rapids while the penalty-kill unit took care of business at an 84.8 percent clip (28 of 33).
The Wolves earned home-ice advantage for the series, which could come in handy considering the Griffins recorded a 16-17-4-1 regular-season record away from Van Andel Arena. Grand Rapids scored just 16 of its 45 power-play goals on the road and ranked last in road PPGs among the AHL’s 31 teams.
Chicago closed out the regular season with a 5-3-1-1 record over the final 10 games, resting key players to prepare for the playoff run. Grand Rapids, meanwhile, comes into the playoffs on a nine-game losing streak despite gaining eight players from the Detroit Red Wings when the NHL regular season concluded. The Griffins nearly missed out on a playoff berth, securing their place in the postseason only once the Wolves eliminated Manitoba from playoff consideration with a 4-2 victory Saturday.
“The dress rehearsal is over,” said Wolves head coach Rocky Thompson. “And now (it’s) the real deal.”
HOW THE WOLVES GOT HERE
For the third time in as many seasons, the Wolves captured the Central Division title. Despite losing several key players due to injury, trades and movement to the NHL, the Wolves finished the year with 98 points — 10 better than second-place Milwaukee.
The Wolves garnered several individual accomplishments, including center T.J. Tynan leading the league’s skaters with 59 assists. Rookie defenseman Zach Whitecloud topped the AHL with a +39 plus/minus rating while fellow first-year defenseman Dylan Coghlan led all rookie defensemen with 15 goals. Forward Daniel Carr, who missed the final six weeks of the season due to injury, led all full-time players with 1.37 points per game (30 goals and 41 assists in 52 games).
Chicago’s goaltending duo of Oscar Dansk and Max Lagace led the Wolves to the third-fewest goals-against in the AHL with a 2.62 average, the first time in franchise history the Wolves finished among the top three in goals-against average.
HE SAID IT
Head coach Rocky Thompson explaining the Wolves’ success: “The star of our team is our team.”
BY THE NUMBERS
2.62: The Wolves allowed the third-fewest goals per game in the AHL, giving up an average of 2.62 goals each contest. It marks the first time in team history the Wolves have finished top three in goals-against average. It also ranks as the fifth-stingiest average in franchise history. John Anderson’s 2013-14 Midwest Division champs (2.51) stand No. 1 and Craig MacTavish’s 2011-12 Midwest Division champs (2.54) are No. 2.
3: On three occasions, the winner of the playoff series between the Wolves and the Griffins has gone on to win the league title. The Wolves won the 2000 IHL Turner Cup Final with a 4-2 win over the Griffins and hoisted the 2002 Calder Cup after defeating Grand Rapids 3-2 in the Western Conference Quarterfinal. Grand Rapids topped the Wolves 4-1 in the 2017 Central Division finals and went on to win the Calder Cup that season.
4: During the regular season, the Wolves’ prowess during even-strength play showed up in the league’s plus/minus ratings as Chicago owned four of the top six spots. Rookie defenseman Zach Whitecloud led the way at +39 while center Gage Quinney held second at +36 alongside Syracuse defenseman Dominik Masin. Forward Daniel Carr finished fourth at +35 while rookie defenseman Nic Hague shared fifth place at +31 with Bakersfield center Cooper Marody.
15: Rookie defensemen Dylan Coghlan and Nic Hague are the first pair of double-digit goal-scoring Wolves defensemen since Joel Kwiatkowski (21), Nathan Oystrick (15) and Brian Fahey (14) delivered for the 2007-08 Calder Cup champions. Coghlan finished the season with 15 goals, leading all AHL rookie defensemen, while Hague scored 13 goals.
48: The Wolves scored the opening marker in 48 of their 76 regular-season games, leading the American Hockey League in first goals. When the Wolves scored first, such as Saturday’s 4-2 win over Manitoba, they went on to produce a 32-11-4-1 record that breaks out to a .719 points percentage. When Chicago didn’t score first — such as Sunday’s loss to the Moose — its record wound up at 12-11-2-3 (.517).
51: The Wolves outscored their opponents by 51 goals this season (250-199). Only Syracuse (+77), Charlotte (+66) and Bakersfield (+60) were better. The Wolves were particularly potent during the first period as they led the league with a +31 goal differential (83-52). Syracuse (+28) and Charlotte (+27) were the next best in the opening frame.
358: 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 Grand Rapids defenseman Jake Chelios made his NHL debut March 29 for the Detroit Red Wings, he became the 358th player (out of 623 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).
CENTRAL DIVISION SEMIFINALS
All games are streamed on AHLTV.
All home games are broadcast on The U Too.