CHARLOTTE CHECKERS (3-1) AT CHICAGO WOLVES (1-3)
PARTY LIKE IT’S 1949
The American Hockey League was a different place in 1949. The league featured only 11 teams — and the St. Louis Flyers was the only one located west of the Mississippi River. Virtually all of the players hailed from Canada…with an occasional American or Scotsman sprinkled in for variety’s sake.
But one thing was as beautiful 70 years ago as it would be today: The plucky Providence Reds, piloted by longtime AHL coach Terry Reardon, rallied from a 3-1 deficit in the best-of-seven finals to knock off the Hershey Bears and claim the 1949 Calder Cup.
(In other anachronisms of the era, Providence goalie Harvey Bennett appeared in 67 of the team’s 68 regular-season games and handled all 14 postseason contests. And Game 7 happened on April 17. But we digress.)
The point here is that no AHL team has rallied from a 3-1 deficit to capture the Cup since 1949. Because every great story requires great conflict — and becomes even better with some historical context — what a fabulous story it would make if the Chicago Wolves can do the same thing against the Charlotte Checkers.
But Wolves head coach Rocky Thompson isn’t worried yet about going back to Charlotte for Games 6 and 7 next Thursday and Friday. He’s focused on today’s Game 5 after near-misses in Games 3 and 4 at Allstate Arena.
“We played a good game (Thursday night),” Thompson said. “We played a really good game. Maybe even a better game (Thursday) than we played (Wednesday) night — and I thought we played a pretty good game (Wednesday) night too. Two good games that easily could have been in our favor, but just didn’t go that way. I’m encouraged. Not in the fact that we’re down 3-1. I’m encouraged with the way we’re playing because to me it means we can climb out of it. We’ve done it all year.”
EVEN-STRENGTH NOT THE ISSUE
When Chicago and Charlotte have been at even-strength this series, the Wolves are outscoring the Checkers 10-9. But the other ways to score have made the difference.
During the Chicago Wolves’ 92 games prior to the Calder Cup Finals (76 regular season and 16 postseason), they allowed just six short-handed goals — or one every 15.3 games. During those same 92 games, the Wolves surrendered 12 empty-net goals — or one every 7.7 games. But in four Calder Cup Finals games, the Checkers have produced two shorties and three empty-net tallies.
Then there’s the power play. The Wolves converted 20.2 percent of their power plays prior to the Finals, but are clicking at just 8.3 percent (1 of 12) in this series. Charlotte has jumped from 19.7 percent prior to the Finals to 27.3 percent (3 of 11) in this series.
THE FINALS SO FAR…
- The Checkers rallied for four goals in the final 21 minutes to spin a 3-1 Wolves lead into a 5-3 Charlotte victory in Game 4 at Allstate Arena.
- Defenseman Nic Hague scored 45 seconds into the night, then defenseman Zac Leslie and forward Brooks Macek added goals to give the Wolves a 3-1 margin at 13:47 of the second.
- Goaltender Oscar Dansk stopped 18 of 22 shots.
- 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: Two-goal leads — specifically 3-1 leads — have not lasted long during this series. In Game 1, Charlotte took a 3-1 lead at 19:03 of the first period, but the Wolves pulled even on defenseman Zach Whitecloud’s blast at 19:54 of the second. In Game 2, Charlotte took a 3-1 lead at 5:48 of the second period, but the Wolves pulled even on Gage Quinney’s power-play goal at 11:13 of the same period. In Game 4, the Wolves took a 3-1 lead on Brooks Macek’s goal at 13:47 of the second. The Checkers rallied to tie at 0:32 of the third. That’s a total of just 33 minutes, 1 second needed to erase those three 3-1 leads.
3: In 1943-44, the American Hockey League transformed its championship series from a best-of-five into a best-of-seven (the Buffalo Bisons swept the Cleveland Barons that year with Eddie Shore as the general manager). Therefore, there have been 75 best-of-seven Calder Cup Finals prior to this season. Of those 75 Finals, only three teams have rallied from a 3-1 deficit to capture the Cup: The 1945-46 Buffalo Bisons (defeating the Cleveland Barons), the 1946-47 Hershey Bears (defeating the Pittsburgh Hornets) and the 1948-49 Providence Reds (defeating the Hershey Bears). Only 11 of the 75 Finals series have gone the full seven games — and the Toronto Marlies’ Game 7 triumph over the Texas Stars marked the AHL’s first seven-game series since 2003.
4: Left wing Daniel Carr, who produced 30 goals and 41 assists in 52 regular-season games but has missed six postseason games including Game 4 of the Calder Cup Finals due to injury, 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 Wolves 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: Rookie defenseman Nic Hague took the puck from one end of the ice to the other to score just 45 seconds into Game 4. Not only did the aesthetically pleasing play give the Wolves a 1-0 lead, it inspired ESPN to rank Hague’s play No. 8 on the SportsCenter Top 10 Thursday night. Actually, it ranked No. 8 on the broadcast version but No. 3 on the Snapchat version. To view the Snapchat version of Hague’s goal on Twitter, click here.
10: The Wolves have 10 skaters who have appeared in all 21 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 18 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||Checkers 5, Wolves 3||Allstate Arena|
|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|