Josh Leivo and CJ Smith scored 19 seconds apart in the third period to rally the Chicago Wolves to a 4-2 victory over the Cleveland Monsters Tuesday night at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse to clinch a Calder Cup Playoff berth.
New defenseman Tarmo Reunanen scored early and Leivo added an empty-net goal late for the Wolves (40-11-5-5), who became the third AHL team to punch their ticket for the postseason. Chicago also extended its Central Division lead to 18 points while winning its fourth game in a row.
With the team’s 21st playoff spot in 28 years in the bag, postseason tickets are on sale now at ChicagoWolves.com/Playoffs.
“It was business as usual afterward,” said Wolves head coach Ryan Warsofsky. “There were some quick congrats, but I think we have some big goals in mind so nothing is changed.”
Reunanen, loaned to the Wolves Monday after a trade between the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes and New York Rangers, scored a goal on his first shift in a Wolves uniform.
Stefan Noesen carried the puck into the offensive zone down the left wing and banked it back to the point for Reunanen, who unleashed a one-timer that found the back of the net 62 seconds into the game. Andrew Poturalski also earned an assist to retake the AHL scoring lead with his 82nd point.
Cleveland (23-27-8-4) answered with Jake Gaudet’s rebound goal at 5:53 of the first, then the Monsters took a 2-1 lead at 4:53 of the second when Robbie Payne’s centering pass banked off Justin Scott’s shin pads into the goal.
The Wolves regained control early in the third period. With 3:08 gone in the third, Jack Drury and Jamieson Rees battled to control the puck in the offensive zone before Rees spied Leivo alone in front of the crease. The veteran forward collected the pass, stickhandled briefly and roofed a shot over goaltender Jet Greaves’ glove.
Nineteen seconds later, Ivan Lodnia steered a long lead pass to Smith speeding across the blue line. Sensing a Monsters defender bearing down on him, Smith jammed on the brakes at the hashmarks. As the Monster slid past into the post, Smith zipped a shot between Greaves’ legs to give the Wolves a 3-2 lead at 3:27 of the third.
“When you challenge them, they rise to the occasion,” Warsofsky said.
Cleveland pulled Greaves with more than three minutes left in search of the equalizer, but Wolves rookie goaltender Pyotr Kochetkov (8-0-1) held fast to finish with 26 saves and win for the eighth time in nine North American games. Greaves (11-10-2) finished with 31 saves in the loss.
The Wolves wrap up their three-game trip 7 p.m. Friday at Milwaukee, then return to Allstate Arena to host the Admirals at 7 p.m. Saturday for Salute to Military Families Night and the Texas Stars at 3 p.m. Sunday for Papa John’s Family Sunday. To get the best ticket specials, email a Wolves representative at [email protected].