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Gameday: 100 down, 1 to go

CHICAGO WOLVES (45-14-5-5)
AT TEXAS STARS (28-27-6-6)

Saturday, April 16 | 7 p.m. | H-E-B Center | AHLTV | Facebook Live

100 DOWN, 1 TO GO

The 2021-22 regular season started six months ago today and has been a compelling ride since Day 1. Thanks to career years from key veterans, continual growth from many younger players and perfectly timed arrivals from some foreign-born prospects, the Chicago Wolves have become the first AHL team to reach the 100-point mark.

The Wolves hit triple digits Friday night as they rallied from a 2-0 deficit to claim a 4-3 triumph over the Texas Stars. In addition to getting to 100 points for the 10th time in the organization’s 28-year history, the Wolves moved within 1 point of clinching their 10th division title since joining the AHL 21 seasons ago.

There are two ways the Wolves — who have been in first place since winning Nov. 26 at Grand Rapids — can wrap up their fifth Central Division crown in six years today:

1) Rockford defeats the second-place Manitoba Moose when they meet at 2 p.m. in Winnipeg, OR
2) The Wolves reach the end of regulation of tonight’s game at Texas either tied or leading.

NOT A TWO-MAN GANG

Friday’s game notes highlighted the impact veterans (and AHL Most Valuable Player candidates) Andrew Poturalski and Stefan Noesen have had on this team’s offense. One stat that wasn’t included in that mix? Either Poturalski or Noesen (or both) earned a point on 118 of the Wolves’ 227 goals scored on the ice going into Friday’s game. That’s a staggering 52 percent.

But look what happened Friday night: Poturalski didn’t put up any points after rejoining the team following the birth of his son, Morrison, on Wednesday morning. Noesen didn’t put up any points and went to the locker room with an apparent injury during the game’s waning moments.

But defenseman Chris Bigras stepped up with his first goal since joining the Wolves at the trading deadline on March 28. Rookie forward Ivan Lodnia, who entered the night with 3 goals in 65 career games between the AHL and KHL, stepped up with his first two-goal game as a pro. Rookie forwards Jamieson Rees and Vasily Ponomarev stepped up with two assists apiece, including both parts of setting up Spencer Smallman’s game-winner with 5:32 to go.

To put it another way: The Wolves have scored 4 goals or more 32 times this season with Poturalski and/or Noesen in the lineup. Friday’s game marked just the second time (joining the 4-2 win Nov. 7 at Milwaukee) that the Wolves scored 4-plus goals without Poturalski or Noesen getting on the scoresheet. That’s a good sign going forward.

Not as good a sign? Noesen, rookie Noel Gunler and goaltender Alex Lyon left the game due to injury.

we are the wolves

The Wolves are 1 point away from wrapping up their 12th division title in their 28-year history. Here’s the list of division champions:

1998 Midwest (IHL): 113 pts in 82 games (.689)
1999 Midwest (IHL): 110 pts in 82 games (.671)
2005 West (AHL): 105 pts in 80 games (.656)
2008 West (AHL): 111 pts in 80 games (.694)
2010 West (AHL): 105 pts in 80 games (.656)
2012 Midwest (AHL): 91 pts in 76 games (.599)
2014 Midwest (AHL): 100 points in 76 games (.658)
2017 Central (AHL): 101 points in 76 games (.664)
2018 Central (AHL): 95 points in 76 games (.625)
2019 Central (AHL): 98 points in 76 games (.645)
2021 Central (AHL): 45 points in 33 games (.682)

Frankly, the Wolves could count two more regular-season titles in their collection: In 1999-2000, they were considered to be first in the IHL as they finished with the best regular-season percentage (.695). Similarly in 2000-01, the Wolves were credited with the best regular-season points percentage (.567) in the five-team Western Conference.

LAST TWO GAMES

FRIDAY, APRIL 13: CHICAGO 4, (AT) TEXAS 3

  • Spencer Smallman scored with 5:28 remaining to wrap up the Wolves’ rally from a 2-0 deficit and drop their magic number to 1 for the Central Division title.
  • Rookie forward Ivan Lodnia produced his first two-goal game as a pro, defenseman Chris Bigras scored his first Wolves goal and forwards Vasily Ponomarev and Jamieson Rees added 2 assists.
  • Goaltender Pyotr Kochetkov entered for the injured Alex Lyon and posted 12 saves for the win.

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 13: (AT) TEXAS 3, CHICAGO 2

  • The Stars broke to a 2-0 lead in the opening 8:02 and the Wolves never caught up despite Stefan Noesen’s league-leading 41st goal.
  • Center Ryan Suzuki scored the Wolves’ other goal while Jack Drury, Joey Keane, Jesper Sellgren and David Gust picked up assists.
  • Goaltender Pyotr Kochetkov notched 19 saves.

By the numbers

2.52: The Wolves stand atop the American Hockey League at 2.52 goals allowed per game with the Providence Bruins (2.65) 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 — set in 2013-14 when Goaltender of the Year Jake Allen and backup Matt Climie led the team to a 2.51 per-game mark.

5: Twenty-year-old rookie center Vasily Ponomarev has played in five games for the Wolves since being loaned by the Carolina Hurricanes (NHL) on April 3. Though the Canes’ 2020 second-round pick hadn’t played since Nov. 25 for Spartak (KHL) — and played fewer than three minutes in eight of his 14 appearances for Spartak in 2021-22 — he has wasted little time getting used to a full workload. Ponomarev owns 5 assists in his first five pro games in North America, including a pair of primary assists in Friday’s win.

17: Not only did the Wolves slice their Central Division magic number to 1 Friday night, but they slashed 4 from their magic number to own home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs. Now the number sits at 17 with seven games to go. The Stockton Heat, who lost Friday at Henderson, still own the inside track as their magic number is 11 with six games left. Utica and Ontario are the only other teams with a chance to finish with the best regular-season record.

41: The AHL goal-scoring race got a little closer Friday night. Wolves forward Stefan Noesen did not score after producing six goals in his previous six games, but Ontario’s Martin Frk picked up his fifth goal in his last three games. Now Noesen owns 41 goals to Frk’s 38, but the Wolves have seven games remaining compared to the Reign’s five. That suggests the physical Plano, Texas, native remains in good shape to become Chicago’s first goal-scoring champ since Wade Megan posted 33 goals to take the 2016-17 Willie Marshall Award.

88: After missing Wednesday’s game to be in Chicago with his wife, Haley, for the birth of their first child, Wolves captain Andrew Poturalski returned to Texas Friday and centered the Wolves’ first line for the 64th time this season. He did not, however, score a point and he remains at 88 (25G, 63A) with seven games remaining. Ontario’s T.J. Tynan dished out 1 assist Friday night to move to 91 points (13G, 78A) with five games to play.

422: Since the Wolves played their first game on Oct. 1, 1994, a total of 727 players have suited up for Chicago. Veteran Richard Panik and rookies Noel Gunler and Vasily Ponomarev joined the club April 6 — and Panik became the 422nd player to boast NHL and Wolves experience. That’s 58.0 percent of all Wolves players — and that doesn’t include former Wolves forward Cody Beach, who made his NHL officiating debut Tuesday at Arizona.

NEXT FIVE GAMES

Tuesday, April 19 vs. Rockford 7 p.m. Allstate Arena My50
Friday, April 22 at Grand Rapids 6 p.m. Van Andel Arena AHLTV
Saturday, April 23 vs. Milwaukee 7 p.m. Allstate Arena My50
Sunday, April 24 vs. Grand Rapids 3 p.m. Allstate Arena My50
Thursday, April 28 vs. Grand Rapids 7 p.m. Allstate Arena AHLTV

 

All games are streamed on AHLTV.