GRAND RAPIDS GRIFFINS (32-33-6-2)
AT CHICAGO WOLVES (47-16-5-5)
Because the Chicago Wolves clinched so many milestones so quickly — Calder Cup Playoff berth, first-round bye in the playoffs, Central Division championship — head coach Ryan Warsofsky’s role has been transformed over the last few weeks.
Instead of being a taskmaster trying to push his players to greater heights, he has become more of a ringmaster juggling multiple tasks to suit his new overall goal: getting the Wolves into the postseason in the best possible shape while not losing their edge.
One example: The Wolves played Saturday’s 3-1 loss to Milwaukee without five of their top eight point-producers. A few of them have been nursing injuries for a few weeks, but a few others just needed to get off their skates.
Not only did that affect the team’s offense, but several of those top producers also play key roles on the team’s penalty kill. Nobody’s saying Milwaukee still wouldn’t have scored 3 power-play goals Saturday night if they had been on the ice. On the other hand, the Wolves hadn’t given up 3 power-play goals in any of their first 72 games this season.
“Today for sure (we’re continue to rest guys),” Warsofsky said. “In one of our last two games, we’ll want to get our lineup going for the playoffs. But we’re playing hard. We’re playing like we’re trying to get into the playoffs, which is really important. I think that’s a positive.”
CENTRAL DIVISION UPDATE
In the 45 hours since the Wolves met the Griffins in Grand Rapids, the Central Division playoff picture has become much more clear. Grand Rapids no longer has a path to the playoffs while the Wolves have a better sense of the No. 4 and 5 seeds who will be playing a best-of-3 series to advance to meet them in the first round.
The Rockford IceHogs wrapped up the fourth of five available playoff slots with a home win over Manitoba Saturday night. Meanwhile, the Texas Stars swept crucial games Friday and Saturday at Iowa to drop their magic number to 1 for the fifth and final spot. If Iowa doesn’t win this afternoon at Rockford, then Texas wraps it up.
Essentially, that would leave just one question mark to be sorted out: Will Milwaukee maintain third place and the final first-round bye? Or will Rockford climb over the Admirals to claim it? Milwaukee owns the better points percentage right now (.574 to .566), but Rockford has four games remaining to Milwaukee’s two. If the IceHogs sweep the rest of their games — including an April 29 clash at Milwaukee — there’s nothing the Admirals can do to stop the IceHogs from moving into third.
we are the wolves
For 22 years, the 1999-2000 team coached by John Anderson has been the Wolves’ gold standard — at least when it comes to regular-season success. Those Wolves finished with the best record in the IHL (53-21-8) before going on to claim the Turner Cup.
No Wolves team has been able to match the 1999-2000 squad’s .695 points percentage, but that will change if the Wolves win this afternoon. Earning a W would push Chicago’s points total to 106, which means they could do no worse than a .697 points percentage for the year. If they can win their final three games, they’ll join the 1998, 2000 and 2008 teams (each of which won the league championship) with 50 wins.
LAST TWO GAMES
SATURDAY, APRIL 23: MILWAUKEE 3, (AT) CHICAGO 1
- The Wolves allowed three power-play goals for the first time this season as Milwaukee took advantage of a late major to score twice on the power play.
- Forward Josh Leivo opened the scoring as captain Andrew Poturalski earned the primary assist for his 94th point of the year.
- Goaltender Dylan Wells recorded 26 saves, including a penalty shot, in his second Wolves game.
FRIDAY, APRIL 22: CHICAGO 4, (AT) GRAND RAPIDS 2
- The Wolves scored three goals during the first 10 minutes of the second period to take control and sweep all six games at Grand Rapids this season.
- Defenseman Chris Bigras and forwards Andrew Poturalski and Richard Panik scored in the second and rookie Noel Gunler added one in the third while Josh Leivo dished out three assists.
- Goaltender Jack LaFontaine stopped 27 shots for the win.
By the numbers
2.56: The Wolves have led the American Hockey League in Goals Against since the end of February. They own the lead at 2.56 goals allowed per game and own a bit of cushion over the second-place Providence Bruins (2.63). If the Wolves can maintain their spot at the top of the GAA charts, then they’d capture the fewest goals allowed crown for the first time in franchise history. The team record for fewest goals allowed per game was 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. The Wolves allowed 191 goals in 76 games that year, so this year’s crew needs to allow fewer than 4 goals over the final three games to break that record.
6: Today’s game wraps up the Wolves’ sixth and final “3-in-3” of the season. As you can imagine when a team is required to battle through three games in a 48-hour span, the Wolves’ results in 3-in-3s have been all over the map. The highlights came in Nov. 26-28 and Dec. 16-18 — when the Wolves kicked off and wrapped up their franchise-record-tying 12-game win streak. The lowlight came during the most recent 3-in-3 when they earned just 2 points April 1-3. Overall, the Wolves have posted an 11-5-1-0 record in these games (.676).
7: The Wolves’ magic number to claim home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs has dropped to 7 with three games to play. The Pacific Division-winning Stockton Heat have the inside track as their magic number stands at 4 with two games to go. In essence, the Wolves need to grab 3 more points than Stockton the rest of the way in order to claim the Macgregor Kilpatrick Trophy and home ice against everybody.
43: Forward Stefan Noesen did not play in Saturday’s game against Milwaukee — his first time out of the lineup since he spent the Jan. 22-23 weekend with the Carolina Hurricanes. During his 37 consecutive Wolves appearances, Noesen rang up 25 goals, 17 assists and a +15 plus/minus rating to take the league lead with 43 goals and move into third in scoring with 79 points. Noesen owns a three-goal lead over Ontario’s Martin Frk in the race to win the AHL goal-scoring title. To make his odds even better, the Reign only have one game left while the Wolves have three.
94: Wolves captain Andrew Poturalski and Ontario’s T.J. Tynan have become the first two AHL players in 10 seasons to score more than 90 points, while Poturalski (26G, 68A) has become the first Wolves player since 2007-08 AHL MVP Jason Krog to produce more than 83 points in a season. Poturalski earned an assist Saturday night for his 94th point of the year to pull within 4 points of Tynan in the race for the scoring crown. Because the Wolves have three games left compared to the Reign’s one, Poturalski still has a chance to be the first player to win back-to-back AHL scoring titles since Philadelphia’s Peter White in 1996-98.
423: Since the Wolves played their first game on Oct. 1, 1994, a total of 727 players have suited up for Chicago. When 22-year-old goaltender Pyotr Kochetkov stopped 17 shots to earn a 3-2 overtime win in his NHL debut for the Carolina Hurricanes Saturday afternoon, he became the 423rd Wolves player to play in the NHL. That makes 58.2 percent of all Wolves players, but that’s 70 percent of all Wolves goalies (49 of 70).
FINAL REGULAR-SEASON GAMES
|Thursday, April 28||vs. Grand Rapids||7 p.m.||Allstate Arena||AHLTV|
|Saturday, April 30||at Rockford||6 p.m.||MetroCentre||AHLTV|
All games are streamed on AHLTV.