CHICAGO WOLVES (1-2) AT GRAND RAPIDS GRIFFINS (2-1)
WHEN A GAME GETS AWAY
Nobody in the visiting team locker room claimed the Chicago Wolves were the better team during Game 3 of the Central Division Semifinals on Tuesday night at Van Andel Arena. That’s a hard story to sell after a 6-2 defeat.
But when the first half of the game plays out as even — despite the loss of two players on blows to the head (only one of which was penalized) — it begs the question whether the second half might have played out differently if everyone had been reined in sooner.
Instead, Game 3 degenerated into risky hit after risky hit, scrum after scrum, challenge after challenge and officials’ conference after officials’ conference — all to no avail as the teams combined for one match penalty, two fights, six misconduct penalties and a total of 144 penalty minutes.
By game’s end — due to injuries and the evacuation of the Wolves penalty box after a fan decided to dump trash on the players — the Wolves had just 13 players visible in the arena: six players on the ice, six skaters on the bench and backup goaltender Oscar Dansk.
Head coach Rocky Thompson thought his team played well — particularly during the first 30 minutes — despite everything that happened: “With all those situations and our guys getting injured, I think they’re most upset about the fact their teammates — their brothers — took all these cheap shots and they’re really hurting. They’ve been together all this time and they’re really close-knit. But tonight will be tonight and we’ll refocus tomorrow.”
Tomorrow is today — and the Wolves must win today in order to force the winner-take-all Game 5 on Sunday at Allstate Arena.
WITH BACKS TO THE WALL
The Chicago Wolves have a history of bringing their best when a loss means elimination from the Calder Cup Playoffs. Since joining the American Hockey League prior to the 2001-02 season, the Wolves have fashioned an 18-10 record when facing elimination.
What happened the last time the Wolves lost Game 3 to fall behind 2-1 in a best-of five series, you ask? We only have to go back to the 2017 Central Division Semifinals, when the Wolves dropped Game 3 in overtime to the Charlotte Checkers. Craig Berube’s Wolves promptly took Games 4 and 5 to advance.
And then there’s the four-goal defeat factor: The last 10 times the Wolves have lost by four or more in the postseason (and had a chance to play the same team again), they’ve won the next game all 10 times.
THE SERIES SO FAR
- The Wolves and Griffins were knotted 2-2 through 29 minutes, but Grand Rapids scored three more goals in the second period to take a 2-1 lead in the Central Division Semifinals.
- Forwards T.J. Tynan and Tye McGinn tallied for the Wolves while Tomas Hyka set up both goals as the Wolves scored first for the third game in a row.
- Goaltender Max Lagace notched 19 saves.
- 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
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.
5: Defenseman Zac Leslie handed out an assist in Game 3, which gave him a pair of assists in this series. Leslie has been the Wolves’ top scorer over the last two postseasons even though he posted just 16 points (2G, 14A) in 60 regular-season games this year. Leslie paced the Wolves with three points (G, 2A) in last year’s Central Division Semifinals against Rockford, so he owns five points in the team’s last six playoff games.
6: When the Wolves lost Tuesday night, it marked the sixth consecutive time the franchise has lost Game 3 in the postseason. The string goes back to the 2014 Western Conference Semifinals against Toronto. The team’s last Game 3 win was the 2014 opening-round series against Rochester. However, the Wolves have won two of their last three Game 4 opportunities.
10: The last 10 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.
25: Wolves rookie defenseman Nic Hague played in 75 games during the regular season and amassed just 38 penalty minutes. He never fought and never got called for a 10-minute misconduct. Yet during Tuesday’s Game 3 adventure, Hague picked up a game- and career-high 25 penalty minutes with one fight and two misconducts. That’s as certain a sign as any that the game might not have been controlled at a normal level. Forwards Curtis McKenzie and Keegan Kolesar each posted double-digit penalty minutes for just the second time this season.
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||Griffins 6, Wolves 2||Van Andel Arena|
|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.