CHICAGO WOLVES (2-0)
AT ROCKFORD ICEHOGS (0-2)
FIRST CHANCE TO ADVANCE
After the Chicago Wolves throttled the Rockford IceHogs 6-2 Thursday night in Game 1 of the Central Division Semifinals, the big question was whether the Wolves could match that effort in Game 2 Saturday night at Allstate Arena. As it turned out, the Wolves didn’t match that effort — they exceeded it.
Playing in a virtual frenzy from the start, the Wolves fired the game’s first 14 shots. By the time first intermission arrived, the Wolves owned a 2-0 lead on the scoreboard and a 20-1 lead in shots. That 1 shot, by the way, set Chicago’s postseason record for fewest shots allowed in a period.
In the end, the Wolves pulled off a 4-1 victory (and a 49-16 advantage in shots) to give themselves a chance to wrap up the best-of-5 series this afternoon at Rockford. While it seems impossible for the Wolves to deliver another relentless and smothering effort today, that’s what everyone thought prior to Game 2, too.
“We, as leaders, know what it’s like,” said Wolves captain Andrew Poturalski, who won the AHL’s postseason MVP award with the Charlotte Checkers the last time the Calder Cup was awarded in 2019. “Coming off a win like that, it’s easy to kind of relax and let off the gas. But the message was pretty clear throughout the room just to stay on them and keep playing the way we played. When we play like that, we think we’re a hard team to play against in this league.
“Everyone’s buying in. Everyone’s coming together. The energy’s positive on the bench. When you win playoff games, it’s a lot of fun. Everyone’s starting to realize that and we’ve got to just keep doing what we’re doing.”
That includes Game 3. Yes, the Wolves can wrap up the organization’s first postseason sweep since the 2007 West Division Semifinals against the Milwaukee Admirals, but nobody’s counting that third win until it happens.
“This series is by no means over,” Poturalski said. “In five games, anything can happen. We definitely know that and we’re going to be ready to go — keep working hard and keep doing what we’re doing and make life hard for them.”
SPREADING THE WEALTH
The Chicago Wolves own 10 goals through two games of the Central Division Semifinals and they’re coming from all over the lineup. In Saturday’s game, they scored one goal with the top line on the ice, two with the second line and one with the fourth line. For the series — not including the two Game 1 power-play tallies and one in Game 1 set up at the end of a penalty kill — that makes it two goals for the top line, three for the second line and two for the fourth.
And, of course, two of the goals have come from blueliners Cavan Fitzgerald and Max Lajoie.
THE FIRST 2 GAMES
- The Wolves outshot the IceHogs 20-1 in the first period — scoring on their final two shots of the frame — to set the tone for a resounding Game 2 victory at Allstate Arena.
- Forwards Josh Leivo, CJ Smith and Vasili Ponomarev and defenseman Max Lajoie scored goals while Jack Drury handed out two assists as the Wolves finished with a 49-16 shot advantage.
- Goaltender Alex Lyon posted 15 saves to pick up the win.
- 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
1: At the 14:01 mark of the first period Saturday night, Rockford’s Andrei Altybarmakian sent a benign shot from the top of the right circle toward Wolves goaltender Alex Lyon’s five hole that he calmly steered into the corner with his right pad. That wound up as the IceHogs’ lone shot on goal for the opening 20 minutes, which set a Wolves postseason franchise mark for fewest shots allowed in a period. The previous record of two had been accomplished five times — the last time during Game 1 of the 2019 Central Division Finals when the Wolves limited the Iowa Wild to 1 shot in the third period to give themselves time to rally to victory.
3: Three Wolves have made their professional postseason debuts during this series against Rockford. Evanston-born defenseman Joey Keane has racked up 3 assists and a +5 plus/minus rating in his first two games while 20-year-old fourth-line center Vasili Ponomarev recorded an insurance goal in the third period Saturday night. Interestingly, Ponomarev earned his goal because he was trying to set up a redirect for linemate Jamieson Rees — the Wolves’ third postseason newbie — with an authoritative pass from the corner to the crease, but a Rockford defenseman stuck his skate in the way and knocked it in the net.
6: The Wolves’ history books show six postseason sweeps on the franchise’s resume, but none in the last 15 years. The first one occurred at the outset of the IHL’s postseason in 1998 — a three-game run against Manitoba in Western Conference Quarterfinal action. The Wolves also put a three-game sweep on the Moose in the 1999 Western Conference Quarterfinal and a four-game sweep on Long Beach in the 2000 Western Conference Quarterfinal. Chicago earned its first AHL sweep over Grand Rapids in the 2004 West Division Semifinal. The Wolves swept Manitoba for a third time with a 4-0 sweep in the 2005 Western Conference Finals, then did the same to the Milwaukee Admirals two years later in the same round.
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. With Saturday’s 15 saves in 16 shots, Lyon dropped his Calder Cup Playoffs goals-against average to 1.93 and improved his save percentage to .938.
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 for the Carolina Hurricanes on 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 Hurricanes, by the way, won Game 7 of their Stanley Cup first-round series Saturday afternoon against the Boston Bruins.
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.||CHI 4, RFD 1|
|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.