IOWA WILD (0-0) AT CHICAGO WOLVES (0-0)
LET THE CENTRAL DIVISION FINALS BEGIN!
The top-seeded Chicago Wolves are in the midst of their 20th playoff run in 25 seasons, advancing to the Central Division Finals after besting Grand Rapids in Round 1 in five games. The third-seeded Iowa Wild, on the other hand, have never qualified for the playoffs before this season.
While the Calder Cup experience may be lopsided, the matchup this season couldn’t be tighter. During their eight games in the regular season, the Wolves won four times and the Wild won four times. Both teams scored 21 goals. Four games went to overtime, another was won by a one-goal margin and two others were decided by two goals, but only because the Wild added empty-net goals in the final seconds. The only “blowout,” if you can call it that, happened on March 9 when the Wolves earned a 4-1 win at Allstate Arena.
“They’re another team very similar to Grand Rapids in terms of talent,” said Wolves head coach Rocky Thompson. “We’ve had good games against them all year. I think it’s going to be a great series. It’s going to be a hard-fought series between two teams that really want to move on.”
Iowa has a tight turnaround from finishing off Round 1 on Monday night in Milwaukee — driving straight to Allstate Arena to set up for tonight’s battle. The Wild will be playing three games in a four-day span and five in eight games. Conversely, the Wolves enter tonight’s game having played once in the last six days.
This marks the Wolves’ 10th trip to the division finals since joining the AHL in 2001.
UNSUNG HEROES LEAD THE WAY
The box score from Sunday’s Game 5 of the Central Division Finals didn’t show it, but the Wolves’ line of Stefan Matteau, Tobias Lindberg and Matthew Weis turned the game around with their stellar play right before Cody Glass erased Grand Rapids’ 1-0 lead 3:41 into the second period.
The trio didn’t produce any points in the Wolves’ 4-2 win over Grand Rapids and wasn’t on the ice for any of the team’s goals. In fact, they combined for a -1 plus/minus rating. But they entered the Grand Rapids zone with the puck and held it there for 78 seconds preventing the Griffins from changing personnel and tiring them out before Glass netted the equalizer.
“Those are the things that go unseen sometimes,” Wolves head coach Rocky Thompson said. “Even though they didn’t get on the scoresheet, those individual players – they’re the ones who got us going. When you play that way, your teammates get rewarded with points – not necessarily your linemates – but it helps with your team game. I give those guys a ton of credit.”
RELIVING THE ROUND 1 RALLY
- The Wolves scored four unanswered goals in the decisive Game 5 to erase a 1-0 deficit, eliminate the Grand Rapids Griffins and advance to the Central Division Finals.
- Forward Keegan Kolesar scored twice while forwards Tomas Hyka and Cody Glass also scored for Chicago. Center T.J. Tynan handed out two assists.
- Goaltender Oscar Dansk stopped a postseason-high 30 shots in the series winner.
- Rookie center Cody Glass’ goal early in the third period stood up as the game-winner as the Wolves forced a winner-take-all Game 5 with the Game 4 victory at Van Andel Arena.
- Defenseman Nic Hague and center T.J. Tynan scored power-play goals in the second period for a 2-1 lead, then forwards Tye McGinn and Keegan Kolesar added empty-net goals in the final 1:19.
- Goaltender Oscar Dansk posted 29 saves to earn his first postseason win in North America.
BY THE NUMBERS
1: The Wild have allowed just one power-play goal in the postseason, which ranks first among the 16 playoff teams with a 95.7 percent clip on the penalty kill. Iowa’s PK was nearly perfect through Round 1. The Wild only allowed a goal late in the second period of Game 5 vs. Milwaukee while killing off a 5-on-3 Admirals advantage.
2: Wolves forward Keegan Kolesar had just one postseason goal in his career prior to Game 1 on April 19. Now, Kolesar leads the Wolves with four playoff goals through Round 1 – including two game-winning tallies (in Games 2 and 5) that lead all AHL skaters. Kolesar scored an empty-net insurance goal in Game 4 at Van Andel Arena before tallying a pair of goals in Game 5 to send the Wolves on to the Central Division Finals.
3: Three Wolves forwards are averaging at least one point per game in the postseason: Tomas Hyka and Tye McGinn each have six points in five games for a 1.20 points per game average while center T.J. Tynan has five points so far. The Wolves have not had more than one player averaging a point or more per playoff game since the 2012 postseason when Darren Haydar (1.60 points/game), Mark Mancari (1.40), Kevin Doell (1.20) and Nicklas Jensen (1.00) all accomplished the task.
4: Left wing Daniel Carr, who has not played since suffering an upper-body injury on March 5 at San Antonio, 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 April 19 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.
6: The Wolves enter the Central Division Finals having lost their last six Game 1s dating back to the 2014 Western Conference Semifinal against the Toronto Marlies. However, losing a series opener hasn’t always been fatal for the squad as Chicago rallied from a 1-0 deficit to win this year’s Central Division Semifinals against Grand Rapids and the 2017 Central Division Semifinals against Charlotte.
11: The Wolves enter this series with 11 players who boast NHL experience. The Wild enter this series with 14 players who’ve appeared in the NHL, which includes a trio of young forwards (Ryan Donato, Jordan Greenway and Luke Kunin) who spent the majority of this season in the NHL.
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. Of the 623 players who have suited up for the Wolves over 25 seasons, 358 also have competed 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 FINALS SCHEDULE
|Game 1||Wednesday, May 1||Allstate Arena||7 p.m.||Tickets|
|Game 2||Thursday, May 2||Allstate Arena||7 p.m.||Tickets|
|Game 3||Sunday, May 5||Wells Fargo Arena||3 p.m.||Watch|
|Game 4||Wednesday, May 8||Wells Fargo Arena||7 p.m.||Watch|
|Game 5*||Friday, May 10||Wells Fargo Arena||7 p.m.||Watch|
|Game 6*||Monday, May 13||Allstate Arena||7 p.m.||Tickets|
|Game 7*||Wednesday, May 15||Allstate Arena||7 p.m.||Tickets|