Defenseman Jesper Sellgren scored 46 seconds into overtime to give the Chicago Wolves a 2-1 overtime victory over the Manitoba Moose Saturday night at Allstate Arena.
Forward Spencer Smallman scored in regulation for the Wolves (43-13-5-5), who chopped their magic number to 5 for their fifth Central Division title in the last six years.
Rookie goaltender Pyotr Kochetkov (11-0-1) posted 27 saves — several worthy of a highlight reel — as the Wolves defeated the second-place Moose despite being outshot 28-16 and getting just three power-play opportunities compared to Manitoba’s 6.
“We talked about it: Sometimes things aren’t going to go your way,” said Wolves head coach Ryan Warsofsky. “That’s life. You’ve got to continue to work and grind through it and fight and claw for every inch of the ice that’s out there.
“(Manitoba) did a really good job. They’re a really good team. They’re really well-coached. They play with great structure. They’re heavy. They’re physical. They play the game the right way. It’s a fun game to coach because it challenges you a little bit. But it shows the identity and character of our team. We never panicked. We just kept playing.”
The Central Division’s top two teams — and the American Hockey League’s top two teams in fewest shots allowed — held each other at bay until the 4:00 mark of the third period when Smallman delivered his short-handed goal.
With Smallman applying pressure, Manitoba defenseman Ville Heinola lost his edge in the offensive zone and Smallman claimed the puck to launch a patient 3-on-1 rush. He dished to the middle for Jalen Chatfield, who found rookie Vasily Ponomarev coming down the left side. Ponomarev faked a shot, zipped a pass through the crease right to Smallman’s tape and he knocked it home.
Defenseman Leon Gawanke pulled the Moose even with 2:38 left in regulation when he ripped a one-timer from the high slot through heavy traffic.
The Wolves controlled the puck throughout the brief overtime. And when one Moose player decided to head to the bench for a change, the Wolves took advantage of their brief 3-on-2 opportunity and ended the game.
Captain Andrew Poturalski skated into the offensive zone, spied Sellgren two steps ahead of the new Moose player and fed him for a blistering one-timer from just inside the left circle for the game-winner.
The Moose (37-21-5-2) earned a decent consolation prize as they picked up the point they needed to clinch a playoff spot. Manitoba goaltender Mikhail Berdin (16-9-2) finished with 14 saves.
The Wolves wrap up their five-game homestand at 3 p.m. Sunday when the Cleveland Monsters visit for Wizards Day and Papa Johns Family Sunday. To get the best ticket specials, contact a team representative at WolvesTix@ChicagoWolves.com.