Center Spencer Smallman scored with five minutes left to cap a fierce rally and give the Chicago Wolves a 4-3 victory over the Texas Stars Friday night at H-E-B Center.
Rookie forward Ivan Lodnia produced the first two-goal game of his pro career and defenseman Chris Bigras also scored for the Wolves (45-14-5-5), who need just one more point to clinch their fifth Central Division title in the last six seasons.
They will wrap it up Saturday with either one point against Texas or the second-place Manitoba Moose losing at home versus Rockford.
Texas (28-27-6-6) received a 5-on-3 power play at 16:10 of the first period and needed just 64 seconds to open the scoring with a pair of power-play goals. Joel L’Esperance scored on the two-man advantage with 3:33 left, then he fed Tanner Kero for a redirect with 2:46 to go to take a 2-0 lead.
The Wolves responded with Bigras’ first goal in a Chicago uniform. The 27-year-old defenseman, who was acquired at the trading deadline March 28, collected a Vasily Ponomarev pass at the point and wristed a shot that pinged through heavy traffic and trickled across the goal line to make it 2-1 at 18:53 of the first.
Lodnia knotted the game at 3:23 of the second set up by Jamieson Rees’ remarkable rink-long dash. Rees collected the puck behind the Wolves net, sprinted up the left wing, eluded a flying check in the offensive zone and regained the puck from Texas behind the Stars net. He spotted Lodnia in the slot and set him up for the one-timer that pulled the Wolves into a 2-2 tie.
Lodnia delivered again 3:57 into the third as the Wolves maintained pressure in Texas’ zone to take a 3-2 lead. Lodnia seized the puck behind the net and banked it to the left point for defenseman Jesper Sellgren, who whipped a shot to the net. The rebound dropped just outside the crease and Stars goaltender Matthew Murray tried to poke it out of danger, but Lodnia swept into the slot to take the puck and slide it home.
Texas pulled even on Fredrik Karlstrom’s goal from close range with 7:26 to play. Former Wolves alternate captain Curtis McKenzie set it up to make it 3-3.
The Wolves answered the Stars with Smallman’s game-winner with 5:28 to go. Rees flew in behind the Texas net, won a puck battle and tipped it to Ponomarev, who found Smallman at the right faceoff dot for a quick blast and the 4-3 lead.
Texas pulled Murray with more than two minutes left in an attempt to tie, but the Wolves held fast — including the final nine seconds when the Stars held a 6-on-4 advantage.
Alex Lyon started in goal for the Wolves and rejected all six shots he faced, but he left 10:21 into the game with an apparent injury. Pyotr Kochetkov (12-1-1) stepped in and stopped 12 of 15 to pick up the win.
Murray (1-1-0) recorded 26 saves in his second pro game for Texas.
The Wolves wrap up their three-game series with the Stars at 7 p.m. Saturday, then return to Allstate Arena at 7 p.m. Tuesday to face the Rockford IceHogs on Craft Beer Night. To find the best deals on tickets, contact a team representative at WolvesTix@ChicagoWolves.com.