CHARLOTTE CHECKERS (2-1) AT CHICAGO WOLVES (1-2)
DOWN 2-1 IN A SERIES? Sounds familiar
On Jan. 4, the San Antonio Rampage came to town and goaltender Jordan Binnington stopped all 31 Wolves shots he faced in his final game before joining the NHL’s St. Louis Blues and sparking them to the Stanley Cup Final.
Aside from that game, it’s fair to suggest Charlotte’s Alex Nedeljkovic delivered the best performance by a visiting goaltender this season when he rejected 38 of 39 shots Wednesday night to guide the Checkers to a 4-1 win in Game 3 of the Calder Cup Finals at Allstate Arena. The AHL’s Goaltender of the Year made a handful of highlight-reel saves as he kept the Wolves in check until forward Brooks Macek scored with 5:11 to go.
“Nedeljkovic played really, really well, there’s no doubt,” said Wolves head coach Rocky Thompson. “I like how we played the first two periods of the game, really. We had a lot of really good scoring chances, particularly in the first…we certainly could have had a lead. I thought he was locked in early. You could see it. He was making some very difficult saves look easy. That’s OK. What we’ve got to do is get in the way more.”
While Nedeljkovic and the Checkers took a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series, the Wolves know what it takes to rally from such a deficit.
In the Central Division Semifinals, Grand Rapids took a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series and had home-ice advantage for Game 4. Though the Wolves were missing five of their top eight regular-season goal-scorers, Thompson’s bunch battled for a 5-2 victory and also claimed Game 5 to advance.
In the Western Conference Finals, San Diego took a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series and owned home ice for Games 4 and 5. The Wolves battled for a double-overtime victory in Game 4, earned a 5-2 win in Game 5 and wrapped up the series in Game 6 at home.
“We’ve got to continue to play hard and heavy like we did (last night),” Thompson said. “Continue to grind out the series. That’s the way we play: Play in the offensive zone, keep it simple.”
PUTTING Special in special teams
When the Wolves and Checkers have been at even-strength with goaltenders in both nets, the Wolves are outscoring the Checkers 7-6 during this series. But Charlotte has produced two power-play goals, two short-handed goals (one in each of the last two games) and two empty-net goals compared to Chicago’s single power-play goal. That’s a crucial difference. “Our power plays (and) special teams, they’ve got to be better without a doubt,” said Wolves head coach Rocky Thompson.
THE FINALS SO FAR…
- The Checkers scored 1:51 into the game and added a power-play goal and short-handed goal in the second period to spark a 4-1 victory in Game 3 at Allstate Arena.
- Forward Brooks Macek scored with 5:11 left to pull the Wolves within 3-1, but could get no closer despite firing a postseason-high 39 shots for the night.
- Goaltender Oscar Dansk stopped 22 of 25 shots.
- After center Gage Quinney scored two second-period goals to pull the Wolves into a 3-3 tie, the Checkers scored late in the second and added an empty-net goal in the final minute of Game 2.
- Forward Keegan Kolesar scored the Wolves’ first goal and assisted on Quinney’s power-play goal that made it 3-3 while rookie center Cody Glass added two assists.
- Goaltender Oscar Dansk stopped 26 of 30 shots.
- Forward Stefan Matteau scored 5:30 into overtime — his second goal of the night — to cap the Wolves’ rally and earn the Game 1 win at Bojangles’ Coliseum.
- The Wolves trailed 3-1 after one period, but defenseman Zac Leslie scored his first goal of the postseason and rookie defenseman Zach Whitecloud tied it with 5.7 seconds left in the second.
- Goaltender Oscar Dansk posted 35 saves and earned his fourth OT win of the playoffs.
BY THE NUMBERS
2: The Chicago Wolves have lost the last two games of this series, but they have made a habit of capping their losing streaks at two. Chicago has not skated off the ice as the loser in three consecutive games since a Dec. 31/Jan. 2/Jan. 4 stretch against Iowa, Iowa and San Antonio (the latter the 3-0 loss to San Antonio and former Wolves goaltender Jordan Binnington). Since that stretch, the Wolves have endured eight two-game losing streaks without allowing any of them to reach three.
3: The Wolves boast three players with prior Calder Cup Finals experience: forwards Tye McGinn, Curtis McKenzie and T.J. Tynan. McGinn produced 1 goal and 3 assists for the Syracuse Crunch in the 2017 Calder Cup Finals won by the Grand Rapids Griffins in six games. Tynan posted 1 assist in the 2016 Calder Cup Finals for the Lake Erie Monsters as they swept the Hershey Bears. McKenzie earned his Calder Cup championship ring during his rookie year in 2014 when the Texas Stars defeated the St. John’s IceCaps in five games. He delivered 1 goal and 4 assists in that series. Last year, McKenzie captained the Texas Stars squad that went seven games with the eventual champion Toronto Marlies. McKenzie notched a series-leading 5 goals with 1 assist.
4: Left wing Daniel Carr became the fourth Wolves player in the last 13 seasons to earn the AHL’s Most Valuable Player honor. He received the Les Cunningham Award prior to Game 1 of the Central Division Semifinals against the Grand Rapids Griffins on April 19 and joined Kenny Agostino (2016-17), Jason Krog (2007-08) and Darren Haydar (2006-07) in this exclusive club. Hershey is the only other AHL team to have more than one MVP since the Wolves joined the league prior to the 2001-02 season.
8: When forward Curtis McKenzie sat out Game 3 Wednesday night due to a one-game AHL suspension, that meant the Wolves played without their leading goal-scorer during the postseason as he leads the squad with eight. “Whenever a player like that is out of your lineup, without a doubt he’s going to be missed,” said Wolves head coach Rocky Thompson. “He’s one of our leaders. He plays hard. It’s a playoff style that he plays every night. He’s hard to play against.” McKenzie also stands as one of the four players who share the team’s postseason lead in points with 14 — joining Cody Glass, Tomas Hyka and Zach Whitecloud.
20: The Wolves have 10 skaters who have appeared in all 20 Calder Cup Playoff games since the postseason began seven weeks ago: Forwards Cody Glass, Tomas Hyka, Stefan Matteau, Tye McGinn, T.J. Tynan and Matthew Weis and defensemen Jake Bischoff, Nic Hague, Zac Leslie and Zach Whitecloud. Charlotte, meanwhile, has seen just five of its skaters play in all 17 of its postseason games: forwards Morgan Geekie, Zach Nastasiuk, Nicolas Roy and Nick Schilkey and defenseman Josiah Didier.
22: When the Wolves win Game 1 of a postseason series, good things nearly always ensue. When the Wolves defeated the San Diego Gulls in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals — then went on to take the series in six games — it marked the 22nd consecutive time that Chicago has taken Game 1 and gone on to take the series as well. The streak began in 1998 when the Wolves swept Manitoba in the IHL’s Western Conference Quarterfinal. The Game 1 streak includes all four of the Wolves’ championships as they beat Detroit 4-2 in 1998, Grand Rapids 4-3 in OT in 2000, Bridgeport 5-4 in OT in 2002 and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton 5-4 in 2008. The Wolves’ only loss when winning Game 1 came vs. Las Vegas in the 1996 Western Conference Semifinal.
358: If you’ve suited up for the Wolves, chances are better than 50/50 that you’ve played in the National Hockey League or are on your way. 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 Oscar Dansk and Max Lagace — 38 boast NHL experience (69.1 percent).
CALDER CUP FINALS SCHEDULE
|Game 1||Wolves 4, Checkers 3 (OT)||Bojangles’ Coliseum|
|Game 2||Checkers 5, Wolves 3||Bojangles’ Coliseum|
|Game 3||Checkers 4, Wolves 1||Allstate Arena|
|Game 4||Thursday, June 6||Allstate Arena||7 p.m.||Tickets|
|Game 5||Saturday, June 8||Allstate Arena||7 p.m.||Tickets|
|Game 6*||Thursday, June 13||Bojangles’ Coliseum||6 p.m.||Watch|
|Game 7*||Friday, June 14||Bojangles’ Coliseum||6 p.m.||Watch|