CHICAGO WOLVES (1-1) AT GRAND RAPIDS GRIFFINS (1-1)
PLAYING THE WOLVES WAY
In the days leading up to this Central Division Semifinals series, Chicago Wolves head coach Rocky Thompson conducted several interview sessions with the media and spent almost no time discussing his players’ individual excellence. Instead, he focused on the Central Division champions’ collective value and offered such opinions as “the epitome of a team is our team.”
After coming up short in Game 1 (with six players making their AHL postseason debut), the Wolves gathered themselves 24 hours later, learned quickly and earned a 3-2 victory in Game 2. Thompson appreciated the way his players re-embraced the team’s all-for-one mantra. In the waning minutes, for example, top centers T.J. Tynan and Cody Glass gave up their bodies to block shots.
“They blocked two huge shots and these are guys who don’t normally block shots,” Thompson said. “They’re doing whatever they can for the team to be able to get that win.”
In addition, Thompson lauded forward Stefan Matteau for his eagerness to use his top-shelf speed and 6-foot-2, 220-pound frame to impose his will all night — and he also gave a nod to fourth-liners Alex Gallant, Matthew Weis and Tyler Wong for their play.
“(Matteau) was great,” Thompson said. “He was great. He was very physical and he was an impact in the game. Without a doubt. And he wasn’t alone. I liked how our fourth line played (Saturday). They were physical. I was able to get them out against the other teams’ lines and they had a positive impact on the game as well. Really, it was up and down our lineup.
“That’s how we’ve got to play. That’s what the playoffs are going to look like. You’ve got to put the team first, but you’ve got to battle and compete every second of every shift.”
HOW IMPORTANT IS GAME 3?
In a best-of-five series like the Central Division Semifinals, every game carries extra weight. But when the series is knotted 1-1, then the Game 3 winner gains a huge advantage. Tonight’s game marks the eighth time the Wolves have reached this crossroads — and the Game 3 victor usually has moved on to the next round.
On five occasions — 2015 vs. Utica (loss), 2014 vs. Rochester (win), 2002 vs. Grand Rapids (win), 1997 vs. San Antonio (loss) and 1996 vs. San Francisco (win) — what the Wolves did in Game 3 turned out to be the way the series went.
But in the 2017 Central Division Semifinals against Charlotte and the 2003 Western Conference Quarterfinal against Hershey, the Wolves dropped Game 3 to fall into a 2-1 hole — only to rally to take Games 4 and 5 and advance.
THE SERIES SO FAR
- The Wolves used three second-period goals to build a 3-1 lead in Game 2 of the Central Division Semifinals that allowed Chicago to even the series with Grand Rapids.
- Forwards Tomas Hyka and Keegan Kolesar and rookie defenseman Zach Whitecloud scored for the Wolves.
- Goaltender Max Lagace stopped 26 shots for his first Calder Cup Playoff win.
- The Wolves took a 1-0 lead on forward Tye McGinn’s goal 8:28 into Game 1 of the Central Division Semifinals, but Grand Rapids responded with five goals to get the jump on the best-of-five series.
- Chicago trailed 2-1 for more than 20 minutes and produced several flurries in search of the equalizer, but the Griffins held strong and put the game away with three goals in the final 6:50.
- Goaltender Oscar Dansk stopped 26 of 30 shots.
BY THE NUMBERS
1: Wolves goaltender Max Lagace earned his first postseason victory as a professional in Game 2 Saturday night. Lagace rejected 26 of 28 shots during his third postseason start and fourth appearance since turning pro in 2014-15. This was not the first time the 26-year-old Quebec native had excelled in a Calder Cup Playoff game. On April 26 last year, Lagace shattered the organization’s single-game record with 73 saves as Chicago and Rockford battled for 117 minutes and 22 seconds before the IceHogs prevailed in the longest game in Wolves history.
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 received the honor prior to Game 1 on Friday and joined Kenny Agostino (2016-17), Jason Krog (2007-08) and Darren Haydar (2006-07) in this exclusive club. The Wolves’ four MVP awards since joining the AHL in 2001-02 are 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: Prior to winning Game 2 on Saturday night, the Wolves had dropped a franchise-record seven straight postseason games. That streak began when Grand Rapids defeated Chicago 4-2 in Game 3 of the Central Division Finals on May 6, 2017, at Van Andel Arena. The Wolves own a 6-6 postseason record on the Griffins’ home ice. Chicago’s first playoffs win in Grand Rapids occurred in Game 1 of the 2000 Turner Cup Final (May 26, 2000) and the most recent happened in Game 2 of the West Division Semifinal on April 18, 2004.
50: The Wolves led all Western Conference teams by earning 50 points on the road during the regular season. Chicago posted a 23-11-2-2 record, which maps out to a .658 points percentage that ranked first in the conference and fourth in the AHL (trailing only Rochester, Charlotte and Toronto).
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, these four division champions own a combined 3-5 playoff record this year and Syracuse can be eliminated tonight by Cleveland.
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 SCHEDULE
|Game 1||Griffins 5, Wolves 1||Allstate Arena|
|Game 2||Wolves 3, Griffins 2||Allstate Arena|
|Game 3||Tuesday, April 23||Van Andel Arena||6 p.m.||Watch|
|Game 4||Wednesday, April 24||Van Andel Arena||6 p.m.||Watch|
|Game 5*||Sunday, April 28||Allstate Arena||3 p.m.||Tickets|
All games are streamed on AHLTV.
All home games are broadcast on The U Too.