GRAND RAPIDS GRIFFINS (1-0) AT CHICAGO WOLVES (0-1)
TIME TO RESPOND
It’s a trend that’s mildly unsettling. With the 5-1 Game 1 loss to the Grand Rapids Griffins on Friday night at Allstate Arena, the Chicago Wolves have dropped Game 1 in six consecutive postseason series. The Wolves haven’t captured a Game 1 since April 25, 2014 — when Dmitrij Jaskin rode a private plane from the Midwest to Rochester on the day of the Western Conference Quarterfinal opener and delivered the overtime game-winner.
There’s another trend, however, that’s more positive: After the previous five Game 1 losses, the Wolves have rallied to take Game 2 three times. For example, the 2017 Central Division Finals began with Grand Rapids earning a 4-1 win at Allstate Arena. But in Game 2, the Wolves steeled themselves and seized a 7-3 victory.
What’s the key to turning Game 1’s distress into Game 2’s success? Head coach Rocky Thompson believes his team performed atypically once Grand Rapids took a 2-1 lead on Matt Puempel’s power-play goal at the 10:01 mark of the second period. “Really disappointed in how our team, once we faced adversity, didn’t handle it very well at all,” Thompson said. “There’s going to be bumps in the road. We’ve faced a lot of adversity this year. That’s why I’m really disappointed in what ended up happening to us (Friday).”
More objectively, the special teams didn’t carry over from the regular season. The Wolves ranked among the AHL’s top 11 teams in power play and penalty kill while the Griffins ranked among the bottom three (out of 31 teams) in both categories. Yet Grand Rapids converted its lone power play while the Wolves went 0 for 4 with the man advantage. “We’ve just got to capitalize when we get opportunities on our power play,” Thompson said. “We’ve got to be better on our penalty kill.”
CARR DRIVEN TO WIN MVP
Prior to Friday’s game, Wolves left wing Daniel Carr was presented the Les Cunningham Award that goes to the American Hockey League’s Most Valuable Player. Carr became the fourth Wolves player in the last 13 years to earn the award despite missing the team’s final 18 regular-season contests (and Friday’s Game 1) due to injury.
Before Carr was leveled by an illegal hit from San Antonio’s Jordan Nolan on March 5, he paced the AHL in goals (30), points (71) and plus/minus rating (+35) in just 52 games. His 1.37 points per game wound up as the AHL’s highest average since Keith Aucoin in 2011-12.
“His work ethic was just undeniable,” said Wolves head coach Rocky Thompson. “You could see it at Vegas’ (preseason) camp. Now, everybody works hard when you’re there, and sometimes there’s dropoff when you come to the American Hockey League. There was no dropoff. There was a focus within him and he made his teammates better because of how hard he was working and preparing in practice every day. It was a great form of leadership.”
BY THE NUMBERS
0: Friday’s Game 1 loss marked the first contest all year where the Wolves had a zero in both their power-play-goal column (0-4) and their penalties-killed column (0-1). Chicago failed to convert on all four of its power-play opportunities while Grand Rapids cashed in on its lone chance to take a 2-1 lead midway through the second period it would not relinquish.
3: On three of the first five occasions when the Wolves and Griffins met in the postseason, the winner of their playoff series went 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.
4: Left wing Daniel Carr became the fourth Wolves player in the last 13 seasons to earn the AHL’s Most Valuable Player award. He earned the honor Friday and joined Kenny Agostino (2016-17), Jason Krog (2007-08) and Darren Haydar (2006-07) in this exclusive club. The Wolves own four MVP nods since joining the AHL in 2001-02, which is the most of any team over these 18 seasons. The Hershey Bears have won three while no other franchise has procured more than one.
7: The Wolves have dropped their last seven Calder Cup Playoff games — a streak that dates back to May 6, 2017 and Game 3 of the Central Division Finals between Chicago and Grand Rapids. Prior to this current streak, the Wolves never had lost more than five postseason games in a row.
9: The last nine times the Wolves have lost a postseason game by four goals or more (in games that didn’t wrap up a series), the Wolves have come back to win the next game. This streak stretches all the way back to the final days of the International Hockey League. In Game 2 of the 2001 Turner Cup Final, the Orlando Solar Bears posted a 5-1 win. In Game 3, the Wolves responded with a 3-1 victory. The most recent example of this ability to rebound? It happened at the outset of the 2017 Central Division Semifinals. The Charlotte Checkers seized Game 1 by a 4-0 count, but the Wolves retaliated the next night with a 3-2 win and went on to claim the best-of-five series.
51: The Wolves outscored their opponents by 51 goals during the regular season (250-199). Only Syracuse (+77), Charlotte (+66) and Bakersfield (+60) were better. Interestingly, Syracuse also lost Game 1 on its home ice Friday night while Bakersfield squeaked out a 3-2 win at Colorado.
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.