GRAND RAPIDS GRIFFINS (32-34-6-2)
AT CHICAGO WOLVES (48-16-5-5)
Thursday, April 28 | 7 p.m. | Allstate Arena | AHLTV | Facebook Live
HOW DO WE GET HOME ICE?
The Chicago Wolves host their regular-season finale tonight against the Grand Rapids Griffins in a game that was rescheduled from January 2 due to COVID-19 health and safety protocols.
With just two games remaining, there’s not much left on the Central Division champions’ to-do list other than getting healthy for the Calder Cup Playoffs. The good news? Though the Wolves have five regulars who have been out of the lineup for the last 10 days to three weeks, all but one player on the roster hit the ice for Wednesday’s practice.
Wolves head coach Ryan Warsofsky said last week that he’d like to put his best lineup, if possible, on the ice for at least one of these last two games in order to build momentum for the postseason. But there’s at least one other carrot out there: Home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs.
If the Wolves are going to edge past the Stockton Heat to claim the Macgregor Kilpatrick Trophy and the home-ice advantage that comes with being regular-season champions, then they’re going to need a little help from Bakersfield.
Here’s the deal: The Wolves need to earn three more points from their two games than Stockton gets from its game Saturday night at Bakersfield. In other words, the Heat can clinch by beating the Condors. But if the Heat lose in regulation, the Wolves need 3 points tonight and Saturday.
CENTRAL DIVISION UPDATE
The Texas Stars earned a 4-2 victory Tuesday night at Manitoba to clinch the fifth and final Calder Cup Playoffs spot available in the Central Division. That means three of the division’s seeds are locked in: The Wolves are No. 1, Manitoba ranks No. 2 and Texas gets No. 5.
But which team will Texas play in next week’s best-of-3 series that features the No. 5 seed playing on the No. 4 seed’s home ice? That might not be determined until the Wolves and IceHogs wrap up their regular seasons at 6 p.m. Saturday in Rockford.
With Rockford’s 6-1 win Wednesday night at Iowa, the IceHogs own a .564 points percentage with two games to play while Milwaukee owns a .567 points percentage with one game left — Rockford’s visit Friday night to Panther Arena. If Milwaukee wins that game in any fashion, it clinches the No. 3 seed. If Rockford wins it in regulation, it wraps up the No. 3 seed. If the IceHogs win in extra time, they will need 1 point Saturday against the Wolves to be No. 3.
If you’re curious, Texas fashioned a 3-3-1-1 record against Milwaukee this season (including 1-1-1-1 on the Admirals’ home ice) and a 4-3-0-1 record against Rockford this season (including 2-1-0-1 on the IceHogs’ home ice). The Stars won their last four games — all on the road — to rally into the playoffs.
we are the wolves
With 3 points in Sunday’s win over Grand Rapids, captain Andrew Poturalski set the franchise record for most points against one team in one season. Poturalski’s 24 points (9G, 15A) have broken the record set by Darren Haydar in 2006-07, when the AHL Hall of Famer recorded 23 points in 10 games against the Iowa Stars. Haydar still owns the record for most assists against one team with 17, so Poturalski needs 3 tonight to snap that mark, too.
Meanwhile, there’s an unofficial competition that will be resolved today: Linemates Andrew Poturalski and Stefan Noesen have combined for 17 goals in the first 11 games against Grand Rapids this year — the same number that the Griffins have scored.
LAST TWO GAMES
SUNDAY, APRIL 24: (AT) CHICAGO 6, GRAND RAPIDS 2
- Forwards Stefan Noesen and Vasili Ponomarev scored two goals apiece in the first 30 minutes as the Wolves clinched the best regular-season record in franchise history with the victory.
- Forwards Andrew Poturalski and Noel Gunler posted the other goals while Poturalski, Richard Panik and Stelio Mattheos handed out two assists apiece.
- Goaltender Dylan Wells stopped 26 shots to earn his first AHL win since April 14, 2019.
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.
By the numbers
2.55: The Wolves have paced the American Hockey League in Goals Against since the end of February. They own the lead at 2.55 goals allowed per game with a bit of cushion over the second-place Providence Bruins (2.64). 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 2 goals over the final two games to break that record.
3: Goaltender Pyotr Kochetkov has enjoyed quite a run since making his North American debut for the Wolves Feb. 19 against Iowa. The 22-year-old rookie from Russia fashioned a 13-1-1 record with a 2.09 goals-against average and .921 save percentage in 15 games for the Wolves. After backstopping Chicago to the Central Division clincher April 16 at Texas, he was recalled from loan by Carolina (NHL) the next day. Kochetkov played his first three games for the Hurricanes on Saturday, Sunday and Tuesday — and has delivered a 3-0-0 record with a 2.42 GAA and .902 save percentage while winning Carolina’s Metropolitan Division clincher Tuesday night. His success serves as another reminder of the thin line between the NHL and the AHL. As another example, Wolves rookie center Jack Drury (18 goals, 31 assists in 66 games) was not named to the AHL All-Rookie Team announced Wednesday. However, when he made his NHL debut in December, he scored a goal in each of his two games.
7: When Pyotr Kochetkov made his Wolves debut Feb. 19, it enabled the Wolves to set the franchise record for most goaltenders used in one season with eight. However, another record was set Sunday afternoon when Dylan Wells stopped 26 shots to backstop Chicago to a 6-2 win over Grand Rapids. Wells became the record-setting seventh Wolves goaltender this season to earn a victory — joining Alex Lyon (17), Kochetkov (13), Eetu Makiniemi (11), Jack LaFontaine (3), Daniel Mannella (2) and Michael Lackey (1). What’s crazier? All of these goalies except Lyon and Wells made their AHL debuts this season.
45: Forward Stefan Noesen scored two goals Sunday against Grand Rapids to pump his total to 45 goals — the most in the AHL since Alexandre Giroux produced 50 for Hershey in 2009-10. He also joined Steve Maltais, Brett Sterling and Rob Brown as the only players in Wolves history to score 45 goals or more in a season. He’s a virtual cinch to win the Willie Marshall Award that goes to the AHL’s top goal-scorer as Noesen owns five more markers than Ontario’s Martin Frk. He also has clinched the AHL’s game-winning goals title as his franchise-record 12 are four more than his nearest challenger.
97: If Wolves captain Andrew Poturalski scores 3 points tonight, he’ll become the first AHL player to score 100 points in the regular season since Hershey’s Keith Aucoin (35 goals, 71 assists in 72 games) and Alexandre Giroux (50 goals, 53 assists in 69 games) accomplished the feat in 2009-10. Poturalski owns 97 points (27G, 70A) as he’s battling Ontario’s T.J. Tynan (14G, 84A) for the AHL’s scoring title. The Wolves have two games left while the Reign have just one.
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 made his NHL debut Saturday, he became the 423rd Wolves player to play in the NHL. That makes 58.2 percent of all Wolves players — and 70 percent of all Wolves goalies (49 of 70).
FINAL REGULAR-SEASON GAME
|Saturday, April 30||at Rockford||6 p.m.||MetroCentre||AHLTV|
All games are streamed on AHLTV.