After spotting the Rockford IceHogs the opening goal, the Chicago Wolves reeled off four goals in eight minutes to trigger a 6-2 triumph in Game 1 of the best-of-5 Central Division Semifinals Thursday night at Allstate Arena.
AHL goals champion Stefan Noesen produced two goals while forwards Stelio Mattheos, Jack Drury and David Gust and defenseman Cavan Fitzgerald also scored for the Wolves (1-0) as the AHL’s top regular-season team showed no rust from a 12-day wait to start their Calder Cup Playoffs journey.
“What I thought was impressive was our first period,” said Wolves head coach Ryan Warsofsky. “For having 12 days off, we thought (a sluggish start) might happen, but it didn’t. I thought our first might have been our best period. Credit to the guys. They put the work in those 12 days. We had some long practices, some longer meetings than usual to get them dialed in and the guys bought into it.”
The top-seeded Wolves outshot the fourth-seeded IceHogs 9-1 during the first six minutes, but Rockford scored the opening goal of the series when Lukas Reichel broke up a pass in the defensive zone, went on a breakaway and slid a shot between goaltender Alex Lyon’s skates at 6:16.
Chicago’s consistent pressure finally paid off with a pair of goals in the final minute of the first period. Gust battled to win possession of the puck behind Rockford’s net and banked it out to the left point for Fitzgerald, who snapped home a one-timer at 19:04 to knot the score.
Then AHL points champion Andrew Poturalski set up Noesen for a power-play goal and a 2-1 lead at 19:50 of the first. Poturalski, working along the left half-wall, fed the uncovered Noesen along the goal line. Noesen spun toward the crease and stuffed the puck past goaltender Arvid Soderblom.
The Wolves maintained their blistering pace in the second period as they delivered three goals in a 10-minute stretch. The run started when Jamieson Rees intercepted a clearing attempt and flipped a backhand pass to a wide-open Mattheos at the top of the left circle. He stepped into the circle and ripped a shot that made it 3-1 at 3:56.
Drury got on the board at 7:32 with the Wolves’ second power-play goal. Poturalski and Noesen teed it up at the point for defenseman Joey Keane, whose wrister was redirected in the slot by Drury for a 4-1 advantage.
Gust pushed the margin to 5-1 at 13:47 when CJ Smith broke up a Rockford pass in the defensive zone and sparked a breakaway for Gust, who had just finished serving a penalty. The Orland Park product’s first shot bounced out of Soderblom’s glove, so he raised his stick to waist level and whacked the rebound home.
Noesen produced his second goal 36 seconds into the third period when he dropped to his knees near the crease to strip the puck away from defenseman Ian Mitchell and steer it past backup goaltender Cale Morris for a 6-1 lead.
Rockford broke up Chicago’s six-goal onslaught with Evan Barratt’s tally at 7:21 of the third.
Lyon (1-0) finished with 18 saves to earn his first postseason win since May 12, 2018, with Lehigh Valley. Soderblom (2-1), who rejected 69 of 70 shots to lead Rockford to a two-game sweep of Texas last week, stopped 22 of 27 shots in the first 40 minutes before giving way to Morris.
The Wolves host Game 2 at 7 p.m. Saturday with Playoff Beer Specials featuring $3 domestic cans and $4 premium cans through the first intermission. To get the best deals on playoff tickets, visit ChicagoWolves.com/Playoffs or contact a team representative at [email protected].