Josh Leivo dished out three primary assists to lead the Chicago Wolves to a 4-2 victory over the Grand Rapids Griffins Friday night at Van Andel Arena.
Forwards Andrew Poturalski, Richard Panik and Noel Gunler and defenseman Chris Bigras scored for the Wolves (47-15-5-5) as the Central Division champs stayed in the chase to post the AHL’s best points percentage and earn home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs.
Goaltender Jack LaFontaine (3-3-4) stopped 27 shots to earn the win for Chicago, which has four regular-season games remaining and returns to Allstate Arena at 7 p.m. Saturday to face Milwaukee on First Responders Night, presented by Turtle Wax.
The Wolves broke on top 2:39 into the second period. Gunler circled back to the left point and whipped a wrister toward the net that goaltender Kaden Fulcher blocked, but the rebound bounced into the slot. Leivo and Bigras pounced on it and Bigras moved the puck just outside the crease so he could flick a backhand past Fulcher for the 1-0 lead.
Grand Rapids (32-33-6-2) pulled even at 5:15 on a fluke goal. Rookie forward Jonatan Berggren carried the puck to the left half-wall and flipped a centering pass toward the crease. A Wolves defenseman raised his stick to break it up, but wound up deflecting it into the net for a 1-1 knot.
Chicago answered just 70 seconds later by stringing together three quick passes that led to Poturalski’s 26th goal and 92nd point of the year. Leivo carried the puck to the offensive blue line and dished to Richard Panik along the right wing. He fed defenseman Jalen Chatfield, who sent a perfect backhand pass to Poturalski for a snapper from the slot.
The same group gave the Wolves a 3-1 lead at 9:11 of the second. Poturalski motored down the left wing and zipped a cross-ice pass to Leivo open on the right wing. Leivo completed the tic-tac-toe with a quick pass to Panik at the back door as the long-time NHL veteran earned his second goal with the Wolves.
Grand Rapids’ Riley Barber cut the margin to 3-2 at 5:26 of the third during 4-on-4 action, but Gunler gave the Wolves a crucial insurance goal at 10:40. Leivo’s rip from the left circle was blocked, but Gunler chased down the rebound behind the net and stuffed the puck past Fulcher’s skate for a 4-2 lead.
Fulcher (1-2-0) finished with 30 saves in the loss.
The Wolves welcome the Milwaukee Admirals at 7 p.m. Saturday for First Responders Night, presented by Turtle Wax, that includes a Touch-A-Truck event outside. On Sunday, Grand Rapids comes to town for a 3 p.m. Papa Johns Family Sunday and the first 5,000 fans receive a set of Wolves Trading Cards courtesy of Vienna Beef. To get the best seats for this weekend or the Calder Cup Playoffs, visit ChicagoWolves.com or contact a team representative at [email protected].