Trailing by four after 20 minutes, the Chicago Wolves nearly came all the way back before the Milwaukee Admirals claimed a 7-5 victory Saturday night at Panther Arena.
Forwards David Gust, Ryan Suzuki and CJ Smith and defensemen Jesper Sellgren and Jalen Chatfield scored for the Wolves (26-8-4-2), who lost to Milwaukee for the first time in eight meetings this season but maintained a 9-point lead in the Central Division.
Milwaukee (21-19-2-2) opened the scoring at 3:31 of the first. Matt Luff fired a shot from the right faceoff circle that starting goaltender Jack LaFontaine rejected, but the rebound slid into the slot and defenseman Marc Del Gaizo knocked it home.
The Admirals pushed their lead to 2-0 on Rocco Grimaldi’s goal at 4:40 while they had an extra skater on the ice due to a delayed penalty. Grimaldi’s blast from the high slot whistled through heavy traffic that blocked LaFontaine’s vision.
The Wolves responded with Gust’s power-play goal at 7:01. Chicago moved the puck quickly around the perimeter to Smith below the right circle. He fed Gust in the bumper spot for a one-timer that hit his left skate and looped over goaltender Connor Ingram’s shoulder to cut the deficit to 2-1.
Milwaukee answered at 10:24 with defenseman Josh Healey’s first goal of the season and 14:42 with Graham Knott’s seventh, which inspired Wolves head coach Ryan Warsofsky to insert Alex Lyon for LaFontaine. Milwaukee made it 5-1 with 2:23 left in the first as a 2-on-1 rush ended with a Cole Smith goal.
Smith, like Del Gaizo and Healey, played last season in Chicago when the Wolves stepped forward to serve as the NHL partner for the Nashville Predators (Milwaukee’s usual affiliate) when the Admirals could not field a team.
The Wolves launched their comeback 1:12 into the second when Jamieson Rees collected the puck behind the net and fed Suzuki coming down the slot for his second of the year to cut the margin to 5-2.
Chicago earned a crucial goal with :00.2 left in the second period. Max Lajoie wristed a shot from the left half-wall that Ingram rejected directly to Smith in the slot for a rebound goal that beat the horn to make it 5-3.
Luff blunted the Wolves’ momentum with a goal 40 seconds into the third as Milwaukee capitalized on a turnover in the Wolves zone.
Chicago chopped the deficit to 2 again on Sellgren’s second of the year. Chatfield flicked a shot from the right half-wall that pinged off Andrew Poturalski stationed in front of Ingram and it caromed directly to Sellgren in the left circle to make it 6-4 at 6:06.
The Wolves pulled within 1 with 5:05 remaining as Sellgren launched a long backhand stretch pass to create a 2-on-1 for Stefan Noesen and Chatfield. Noesen set up Chatfield’s forehand perfectly and he punched it home for a shorthanded goal to slash Milwaukee’s lead to 6-5.
The Wolves pulled Lyon in favor of an extra attacker with 1:59 to go, but several shot attempts got bottled up in traffic before Milwaukee’s Del Gaizo flung home an empty-net goal from deep in the defensive zone with one second remaining.
LaFontaine stopped 7 of 11 shots while Lyon (12-4-2) rejected 11 of 13 to take the loss. Ingram (18-11-3) posted 28 saves in the win.
Chicago continues its four-game road trip at 6 p.m. Tuesday against the Cleveland Monsters. The Wolves return to Allstate Arena on Saturday, Feb. 12, to play Rockford on Star Wars Night. To get the best tickets, which includes the special Star Wars laser sword package, click here or email a Wolves representative at [email protected].