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Checkers push Wolves’ backs to wall

Chicago 3 | Charlotte 5
Wolves build 3-1 lead, but Checkers rally to take Game 4 and 3-1 series lead

The Chicago Wolves suffered a 5-3 setback against the Charlotte Checkers in Game 4 of the Calder Cup Finals on Thursday night at Allstate Arena, falling behind 3-1 in the best-of-seven series.

Defensemen Nic Hague and Zac Leslie and forward Brooks Macek scored for Chicago (12-9). Goaltender Oscar Dansk (10-8) stopped 18 of the 22 shots he faced.

Nicolas Roy scored a pair of goals in the third period for Charlotte (14-4), which trailed 3-1 until Martin Necas’ power-play goal with 1:00 remaining in the second period. Aleksi Saarela gave the Checkers their first lead with the eventual game-winner with 7:08 to play. Netminder Dustin Tokarski (5-0) stopped 22 shots.

“We feel that we can win in these games,” said Wolves head coach Rocky Thompson. “We don’t feel like we’re being dominated or that there’s no hope. That would be a different type of a feeling. That was my message to the group after the game. It was ‘You should grieve this.’ It stung. We had the 3-1 lead and things were going good. I thought we were playing a really good game.”

Hague opened the game with a bang, scoring just 45 seconds into the game after receiving a pass behind the Wolves net and skating the puck coast-to-coast. Hague drove down the right side before cutting across toward the net and swinging the puck around Tokarski’s outstretched pad for the fastest goal in this season’s Calder Cup Playoffs.

Charlotte’s Jesper Sellgren got the equalizer at 5:21 when his shot through traffic found the back of the net, but Leslie tallied a late goal to put the Wolves in the lead heading into the first break.

After forward Tye McGinn stepped up and blocked a point-blank shot at the Wolves blue line, his linemates took the puck up ice on a rush toward the Charlotte net. The Checkers defense broke up a pass near the top of the circles, but the loose puck landed right on Leslie’s stick and he rifled a shot in from the left side that beat Tokarski’s glove for a 2-1 advantage.

Macek widened the lead 13:47 into the second period after entering the Checkers zone and dropping a pass to forward Curtis McKenzie just inside the blue line. McKenzie passed across the ice to set up defenseman Dylan Coghlan’s one-timer while Macek raced to the net in time to grab Coghlan’s rebound and backhand it over Tokarski for a 3-1 game.

Necas cut into the lead at the 19:00 mark of the second on the power play before Roy scored his first of the night 32 seconds into the third period to make it a 3-3 game.

Saarela broke the tie and scored the eventual game-winner 12:52 into the third before Roy tallied an empty-net goal at 17:28 to put away the 5-3 victory.

The Wolves and Checkers meet for Game 5 at 7 p.m. Saturday in the final game of the season at Allstate Arena.