ROCKFORD ICEHOGS (0-1)
AT CHICAGO WOLVES (1-0)
NOESEN’S MADE FOR THIS
In the first round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Stefan Noesen suited up for the New Jersey Devils and scored one goal (the Game 3 game-winner) in four appearances before the Tampa Bay Lightning knocked out the Devils in 5.
The 29-year-old power forward from Plano, Texas, has waited four years for another chance to play in the postseason — and that opportunity arrived Thursday night in Game 1 of the Central Division Semifinals. Noesen stacked up 2 goals, 1 assist and 2 penalty minutes as his relentlessness, skill and toughness paid off throughout the Wolves’ 6-2 victory over the Rockford IceHogs.
“For me, personally, I take the playoffs (seriously),” Noesen said. “It’s been a few years since I’ve been in the playoffs and this kind of suits my game to a T. A little gritty, a little get-under-your-skin, a little pissed-off type of thing. That’s where I think I play my best hockey.”
At 6-foot-1 and 207 pounds, Noesen boasts the body (and the temperament) to create space for himself in the toughest areas. Just as he scored so many of his AHL league-leading 48 goals within a few paces of the crease during the regular season, Noesen delivered both of his goals Thursday in close quarters.
With 10 seconds left in the first period, he accepted an Andrew Poturalski pass with his back to goaltender Arvid Soderblom and proceeded to spin around and stuff the puck past Soderblom’s glove to give the Wolves a 2-1 lead heading into first intermission.
In the opening minute of the third period, Noesen erased any chances of a Rockford comeback after going to his knees following a hit from Rockford’s Ian Mitchell near the IceHogs crease. Without rising to his feet, Noesen didn’t stop poking at the puck until he had swiped it from Mitchell and flicked it past backup Cale Morris from close range.
“He’s a guy who’s probably going to stick out more in the playoffs just because of the way he plays,” said Wolves head coach Ryan Warsofsky. “He goes to the the net. He’s good around the net. Wants to score. Wants to win. I’ve said before, I know he’s quirky in his own little way, but he’s a competitor. He wants to win the hockey game. You don’t find those guys on trees very often. When you’ve got a guy who’s emotional and a competitor, I’d rather have that and (reel him in) a bit than have to get it out of him. He brings it every night.”
WHEN THE WOLVES WIN GAME 1
Thursday’s Game 1 win marked the 26th time in 49 postseason series that the Wolves have jumped to a 1-0 lead. If history is any guide, the Wolves are in a great spot as they have gone on to win 23 of 25 series after claiming Game 1. That includes all four previous times the Wolves captured Game 1 in a best-of-5 series: vs. Manitoba in 1998, vs. Manitoba in 1999, vs. Hershey in 2003 and vs. Rochester in 2004.
The only times the Wolves did not go on to take the series after taking Game 1: the 2019 Calder Cup Finals against the Charlotte Checkers and the 1996 IHL Western Conference Semifinals against the Las Vegas Thunder.
GAME 1 REWIND
- After spotting Rockford a 1-0 lead, the Wolves scored twice in the final minute of the first period and three more times in the second to roll to the convincing win in Game 1 of the best-of-5 series.
- First All-Star Team forward Stefan Noesen led the way with 2 goals and 1 assist while forwards Stelio Mattheos, Jack Drury and David Gust and defenseman Cavan Fitzgerald also scored.
- Goaltender Alex Lyon stopped 18 of 20 shots to earn the win.
By the numbers
3: When the American Hockey League announced season-ending awards on May 1 — the day after the regular season concluded — the Chicago Wolves swept all three honors. Captain Andrew Poturalski claimed the John B. Sollenberger Trophy as the league’s leading scorer with 101 points, forward Stefan Noesen received the Willie Marshall Award as the league’s leader with 48 goals and goaltender Alex Lyon won the Harry “Hap” Holmes Memorial Award as the only goaltender who appeared in at least 25 games for the team with the best goals-against average. The Wolves also secured the Macgregor Kilpatrick Trophy as the AHL team with the best regular-season points percentage — a franchise-record .724 (50-16-5-5). However, the Wolves did not win any of the awards — Most Valuable Player, Coach of the Year, etc. — determined by the votes cast by coaches, players and media members in all 31 AHL cities.
3: Three Wolves made their professional postseason debuts during Thursday’s 6-2 win in Game 1 over Rockford. Evanston-born defenseman Joey Keane reaped Second Star honors in his first playoff game as he posted 2 assists and a game-high +4 plus/minus rating. Center Jamieson Rees set up Stelio Mattheos’ game-winning goal in his debut. Twenty-year-old Vasili Ponomarev, who joined the Wolves last month from Russia, posted a +1 plus/minus rating. Interestingly, Ponomarev wasn’t the only 20-year-old picked in the second round of the 2020 NHL Draft by the Carolina Hurricanes to join the Wolves. The other youngster, Sweden native Noel Gunler, played in Thursday’s game as well — but he’s in the middle of his second professional playoffs this season. He appeared in three games for Brynas IF in the Swedish Hockey League playoffs during March before coming to Chicago.
4: Thursday’s 6-2 victory tied for the largest goal differential in a postseason game between the Wolves and IceHogs. Chicago claimed a 7-3 victory in Game 2 of the West Division Finals on May 3, 2008 — highlighted by a pair of Darren Haydar goals — but Rockford recovered with a 5-1 win in Game 5 of that series. The Wolves have not won any postseason game by more than four goals since June 4, 2008 — a 6-1 triumph over Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in Game 3 of the 2008 Calder Cup Finals.
50: With a 3-2 win over Rockford in the regular-season finale on April 30, this Wolves squad became the fourth in franchise history to reach 50 wins in the regular season. Each of the other three (1997-98, 1999-2000 and 2007-08) went on to win the league championship. This year’s team led the AHL with its +67 goal differential. That ranks third on the all-time franchise list behind the 2006-07 offensive powerhouse (+79) and the 2007-08 Calder Cup champions (+74).
94: Goaltender Alex Lyon earned the win Thursday night — his first postseason triumph in exactly four years. However, that’s not the game from the 2018 Calder Cup Playoffs for which he’ll always be remembered. On May 9, Lyon stopped 94 of 95 shots for Lehigh Valley as the Phantoms outlasted the Charlotte Checkers to win the longest game in AHL history. Lehigh Valley won 6:48 into the fifth overtime. Lyon finished strong as he rejected Charlotte’s final 79 shots over 119 minutes, 56 seconds — essentially delivering back-to-back shutouts in the same game.
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 April 23, 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).
THE CENTRAL DIVISION SEMIFINALS SCHEDULE
|Game 1||Thursday, May 12||Allstate Arena||7 p.m.||CHI 6, RFD 2|
|Game 2||Saturday, May 14||Allstate Arena||7 p.m.||Game 2 (Playoff Beer Special)|
|Game 3||Sunday, May 15||MetroCentre||4 p.m.|
|Game 4*||Tuesday, May 17||MetroCentre||7 p.m.|
|Game 5*||Thursday, May 19||Allstate Arena||7 p.m.||Game 5 (if necessary)|
All games are streamed on AHLTV.