CHICAGO WOLVES (40-11-5-5)
AT MILWAUKEE ADMIRALS (32-24-4-4)
GRABBING home-ice advantage
When the Chicago Wolves clinched a postseason berth with Tuesday’s 4-2 win at Cleveland, that was just Step 1 in the process leading up to the Calder Cup Playoffs.
The American Hockey League’s new playoff system, which allows all but two teams from each division to qualify for postseason action, means five Central Division teams (instead of the usual four) will advance. That leads to Step 2: Becoming one of the three teams that gets to enjoy a first-round bye while the No. 4 and 5 seeds fight it out in a best-of-3 series. That could be ensured during this weekend’s 3 games in three days.
Step 3 is capturing the organization’s fifth Central Division title in the last six seasons. Then there’s Step 4: Ensuring home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs. Thanks to the Pacific Division-leading Stockton Heat’s loss to Colorado Wednesday night, the Wolves now control their home-ice destiny.
The Wolves’ magic number to clinch the AHL’s best regular-season points percentage (and home-ice advantage) sits at 30. And with 15 games to play during this jam-packed April, the Wolves can shut out Stockton and everybody else from the chase by winning out. Whaddya think, Wolves head coach Ryan Warsofsky?
“We’re going to continue to play as hard as we can,” Warsofsky said. “I’ve been in this situation twice. First, in my last year as head coach in South Carolina (in 2017-18 for the ECHL’s StingRays), we had a really good team and we clinched at a similar time as this year. We rested a lot of our guys, we brought some new guys in…and we lost in the first round. Looking back, we weren’t playing playoff hockey and bad habits leaked into our game a little bit.
“The second time, I was in Charlotte (in 2018-19) when we won the Cup. I remember we played our last two (regular-season) games in Cleveland. The games meant nothing for them, meant nothing for us, but it was probably our two hardest(-working) games of the year. We didn’t rest anyone — maybe one guy because he was a little banged up — but we played hard, we won both games and when we started the playoffs we were going. It gets your mind right and it gets you physically ready for the grind of the playoffs.”
THAT HAVING BEEN SAID…
The Chicago Wolves are acquiring new players at a rapid rate and want to give them a try. Defensemen Tarmo Reunanen and Chris Bigras made their Wolves debuts Tuesday. Veteran forward Richard Panik also was acquired Monday and arrives today, though he hasn’t played since March 19 due to injury.
Carolina (NHL) announced the signing of rookie forward Noel Gunler Wednesday and the 20-year-old Sweden native arrives this weekend. The Wolves signed Quinnipiac defenseman Griffin Mendel to an amateur tryout contract (ATO) Thursday — and there could be more players on the way.
we are the wolves
The Wolves just wrapped up the third-best March in franchise history. Their 10-1-1-1 showing (.846) was surpassed only by the 1999-2000 team’s 15-2-0 showing and the 2002-03 squad’s 12-1-1-1 mark.
When you combine March with the Wolves’ perfect record in December (9-0-0-0), it’s little wonder this year’s team has a great chance to set the franchise mark for the best regular-season record.
This team needs just 16 points in their 15 April games to break the .695 points percentage earned by the 1999-2000 team that went on to win the Turner Cup.
LAST TWO GAMES
- Forwards Josh Leivo and CJ Smith scored 19 seconds apart early in the third period to erase a 2-1 deficit and clinch a Calder Cup Playoff berth.
- Defenseman Tarmo Reunanen scored 62 seconds into his Wolves debut, Leivo added an empty-net goal in the final minute and Ryan Suzuki contributed two assists.
- Goaltender Pyotr Kochetkov posted 27 saves for his fourth straight win.
- 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.
By the numbers
2.51: The Wolves stand atop the American Hockey League at 2.51 goals allowed per game with the Pacific Division-leading Stockton Heat (2.678 GAA) and Providence Bruins (2.684) 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 to lead the league in fewest goals allowed. Prior 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.
6: After clinching a Calder Cup Playoff spot Tuesday at Cleveland, the Wolves’ next task is clinching a first-round bye that will allow them to rest for a week before starting the best-of-5 Central Division Semifinals against either the No. 4 or No. 5 seed. That magic number stands at 6, which means they could wrap up a bye as soon as Saturday. The Wolves’ magic number to clinch their fifth Central Division title in the last six years sits at 14.
8.83: The Wolves are trying to become the first AHL team since the 2007-08 Providence Bruins to lead the league in Shots For (34.72) and Shots Against (25.89) in the same season, though the Manitoba Moose snuck past them Wednesday to move into first place in fewest shots allowed at 25.81. Chicago’s shots differential per game (8.83) 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 owns 35 goals, which shares the AHL lead with Abbotsford’s Sheldon Dries. Noesen paces the AHL in game-winning goals (9) and shares the lead in first goals with Ontario’s Martin Frk and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s Valtteri Puustinen (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 56 appearances, the 29-year-old from Plano, Texas, is on pace to score 44 goals. Only three Wolves (Sterling, Steve Maltais and Rob Brown) have scored more than 41 in a season.
82: Captain Andrew Poturalski ranks second in AHL scoring with 82 points (24G, 58A). If he can outduel the Ontario Reign’s T.J. Tynan (13G, 70A) 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.
421: Since the Wolves played their first game on Oct. 1, 1994, a total of 723 players have suited up for Chicago. Defensemen Chris Bigras and Tarmo Reunanen pushed that number to 723 when they made their Wolves debuts Tuesday at Cleveland. Because both have played in the NHL, that makes 421 Wolves who’ve appeared in the world’s best league. Put another way, 58.2 percent of all Wolves have suited up in the NHL.
NEXT FIVE GAMES
|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|
|Sunday, April 10||vs. Cleveland||3 p.m.||Allstate Arena||My50|
All games are streamed on AHLTV.