CHICAGO WOLVES (39-11-5-5)
AT CLEVELAND MONSTERS (23-26-8-4)
WIN AND WE’RE IN
After two consecutive seasons without a Calder Cup competition thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Chicago Wolves are excited to be one step away from clinching a spot in this year’s playoffs. The Wolves’ magic number dropped to 2 with Sunday’s win at Iowa, so head coach Ryan Warsofsky’s squad will be assured of a spot with a win tonight at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in this game originally scheduled for Dec. 23.
Not only has Chicago’s recent hot streak — the team has forged a 12-1-1-2 record (.844) since Feb. 19 — all but ensured the organization’s 21st postseason out of 26 possible berths, but the Wolves also are well on their way to capturing a first-round bye and the Central Division crown. The Wolves’ magic number to assure a first-round bye sits at 8 while their magic number to wrap up their fifth Central Division title in the last six years stands at 18.
There’s also an internal magic number countdown in effect: the Wolves need 18 points in their last 16 games to wrap up the best regular-season record in the franchise’s 28-year history. The 1999-2000 squad coached by John Anderson finished with a .695 points percentage. This year’s squad owns a .733 points percentage (88 points in 60 games). Eighteen more points would lead to a .697 percentage.
REINFORCEMENTS ON THE WAY
The Wolves’ recent hot streak has not come without a cost: Five players, including three defensemen, have suffered injuries that required time off within the last two weeks. With the American Hockey League’s trade/loan deadline looming Monday afternoon, Wolves general manager Wendell Young pulled off three moves that make the team deeper and better.
Local hockey fans certainly remember 31-year-old forward Richard Panik, who was loaned to the Wolves by the New York Islanders. Panik spent parts of three seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks and registered 34 goals and 34 assists in 149 games, which included a career-high 22 goals during the 2016-17 season. This year, Panik posted 1 assist in 4 games with the New York Islanders to go with 7 goals and 5 assists in 28 games for the Bridgeport (AHL) Islanders.
Panik could fill the spot on the wing that was vacated when Maxim Letunov (13 goals, 10 assists in 60 games) was traded by the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes to the New York Rangers for defenseman Tarmo Reunanan. The 24-year-old from Aanekoski, Finland, was picked in the fourth round of the 2016 NHL Draft by the Rangers, but didn’t come to North America to play until February 2021. He joins the Wolves after posting 2 goals, 15 assists and a +8 plus/minus rating in 40 games for the Hartford Wolf Pack this season.
The Wolves also acquired 27-year-old defenseman Chris Bigras from the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (AHL) in exchange for future considerations. The Orillia, Ontario, native has 267 AHL games on his resume, including 3 goals and 7 assists in 28 games for WBS this season.
we are the wolves
Today marks the three-year anniversary of the last time the Chicago Wolves clinched a Calder Cup Playoff berth.
On March 29, 2019, Curtis McKenzie and Tomas Hyka scored two goals apiece in the opening 21 minutes to spark the Wolves to a 4-3 win at Grand Rapids to wrap up a playoff spot and set the course for a run to the 2019 Calder Cup Finals.
One big difference between 2019 and 2022: The 2019 team clinched its spot with just eight games left in the regular season. This year’s crew will still have 15 more games if they clinch tonight.
Other March 29 highlights in Wolves history: Steve Maltais scored 3 goals in a 5-4 overtime win in 2002 at Utah for his 16th career hat trick. In 2013, Brett Sterling scored 3 goals in the third period — Darren Haydar earning the primary assist on all three — to give the Wolves a 5-2 home win over the Lake Erie Monsters.
LAST TWO GAMES
- Forward Maxim Letunov scored twice in a four-minute stretch of the third period to help the Wolves claim the win and drop their magic number to 2 to clinch a playoff berth.
- Forwards Andrew Poturalski, Jamieson Rees and Jack Drury also scored goals while defenseman Joey Keane handed out two assists.
- Goaltender Pyotr Kochetkov notched 25 saves and added an assist to improve to 7-0-1.
- Forward Josh Leivo wristed home a shot from the high slot with 2.2 seconds remaining in overtime to give the Wolves the hard-fought victory in a battle between the Central Division’s top teams.
- Leivo recorded two goals and one assist while forwards Andrew Poturalski and Jamieson Rees also scored. For Poturalski, it was his 100th goal as a professional.
- Goaltender Alex Lyon posted 27 saves in the win, including seven stops in overtime.
By the numbers
2.52: The Wolves stand atop the American Hockey League with 2.53 goals allowed per game with the Providence Bruins (2.68 GAA), Stockton Heat (2.69) and Utica Comets (2.69) serving as their closest pursuers. If the Wolves can maintain their spot at the top of the GAA charts, it would mark the first time in franchise history they led their league in fewest goals allowed. Prio to this, the closest Chicago came was a third-place finish in 2018-19 with 2.62 goals allowed per game. That’s not to be confused with the team record for fewest goals allowed per game. That was set in 2013-14 when AHL Goaltender of the Year Jake Allen and primary backup Matt Climie led the team to a 2.51 per-game mark.
7: The Wolves have scored at least one power-play goal in each of the last seven games, which ranks as the team’s longest streak of the season and the organization’s longest streak since the first seven games of the 2021 season (Feb. 5-21). Of the players who scored during last year’s power-play streak (Morgan Geekie, Seth Jarvis, Tanner Jeannot, Tommy Novak, Rem Pitlick and Ryan Suzuki), only Suzuki has been part of this year’s team.
8.87: The Wolves are gunning to become the first AHL team since the 2007-08 Providence Bruins to lead the league in Shots For (34.70) and Shots Against (25.83) in the same season. Their shots differential per game (8.87) ranks as the AHL’s biggest positive margin since the 2001-02 Saint John Flames managed a 11.51 shots advantage. The Wolves are in position to break the single-season franchise records for Shots For (34.69) and Shots Against (27.93).
35: Wolves forward Stefan Noesen leads the AHL with 35 goals, two ahead of Ontario’s Martin Frk. He also paces the AHL in game-winning goals (9) and shares the lead with Frk in first goals (7). With his next GWG, he’ll tie the organization’s single-season record shared by Chris Marinucci (1998-99), Brett Sterling (2007-08), Mark Mancari (2011-12) and Shane Harper (2014-15). With his 35 goals in 55 appearances, the 29-year-old from Plano, Texas, is on pace to score 45 goals. Only three Wolves (Sterling, Steve Maltais and Rob Brown) have scored more than 41 in a single season.
81: Captain Andrew Poturalski shares the AHL lead with 81 points (24G, 57A). If he manages to outduel the Ontario Reign’s T.J. Tynan (13G, 68A) down the stretch to win the scoring crown, then he’ll become the first player since Philadelphia’s Peter White in 1997-98 to win back-to-back AHL scoring titles. Poturalski is on pace for 103 points this season as he and Tynan are threatening to become the first AHL players to reach the 100-point mark since Hershey’s Keith Aucoin and Alexandre Giroux scored 106 and 103 points, respectively, during the 2009-10 season.
267: The Wolves lead the AHL in power-play opportunities with 267, which is a decent lead over the second-place San Jose Barracuda (255). They’re on pace for 338 power-play chances, which would be the most for the franchise since 342 in 2013-14. More to the point, the Wolves are on pace to score 69 PPGs, which would be the team’s highest total since the AHL went to a 76-game schedule in 2011.
419: Since Since the Wolves played their first game on Oct. 1, 1994, a total of 721 players have suited up for Chicago. Defenseman Brayden Pachal became the 419th to play in the NHL when he made his debut with the Vegas Golden Knights March 15. Put another way, 58.1 percent of all Wolves have played in the NHL.
NEXT FIVE GAMES
|Friday, April 1||at Milwaukee||7 p.m.||Panther Arena||AHLTV|
|Saturday, April 2||vs. Milwaukee||7 p.m.||Allstate Arena||My50|
|Sunday, April 3||vs. Texas||3 p.m.||Allstate Arena||My50|
|Wednesday, April 6||vs. Texas||11 a.m.||Allstate Arena||AHLTV|
|Saturday, April 9||vs. Manitoba||7 p.m.||Allstate Arena||My50|
All games are streamed on AHLTV.