The Chicago Wolves reeled off three straight goals in the final 11 minutes of the second period to trigger a 6-2 victory over the Milwaukee Admirals Saturday night at Allstate Arena in Game 1 of the Central Division Finals.
Forward Jack Drury scored two goals and Josh Leivo, Jamieson Rees, Andrew Poturalski and Stelio Mattheos also tallied for the Wolves (4-0), who received three assists from defenseman Max Lajoie and 33 saves by goaltender Alex Lyon.
The Wolves, who have won all four of their Calder Cup Playoff games by at least 3 goals, host Game 2 of the best-of-5 series at 3 p.m. Sunday at Allstate Arena.
“We want to play fast and move pucks quick,” said Wolves head coach Ryan Warsofsky. “We were fortunate to score some goals off of it, but they’ll make some adjustments and we’ll have to adjust, too, and be ready for tomorrow.”
The Wolves jumped on top just 32 seconds into the series. Defenseman Jalen Chatfield and Leivo worked the puck out of the defensive zone and fed Drury in stride for a 2-on-1 opportunity. While David Gust raced down the right wing to keep the lone Milwaukee defender occupied, Drury headed toward the net and fired a wrister that beat goaltender Connor Ingram to set the tone on the game’s first shot.
Milwaukee (3-3) pulled even on Cole Schneider’s goal 1:31 into the second period. Joseph LaBate collected a dumped puck behind the Wolves net, spied Schneider alone at the bottom of the right circle and fed him for a quick wrister that banged in off the post.
Leivo regained the lead for the Wolves at 9:30 of the second. Stationed below the Wolves goal line, Chatfield sizzled a long stretch pass down the right side that caught Leivo in stride. The veteran forward pulled up at the top of the right circle and ripped a slap shot that went bar-down over Ingram’s glove for a 2-1 Wolves lead.
The Wolves’ fourth line came through with 3:57 left in the second to give Chicago a 3-1 lead. The Wolves’ forwards hustled back to stop a Milwaukee rush, then defenseman Josh Jacobs and Mattheos quickly turned around the puck to rookie center Vasili Ponomarev. He carried it just inside the offensive zone along the right wall and spotted Rees flying past two Milwaukee forwards into the clear. Rees took the pass in the slot and tucked a backhand past Ingram.
Chicago added a backbreaker with 1.2 seconds to go in the second. Milwaukee appeared content to run out the clock with a conservative pass in front of the benches, but Lajoie broke it up and deflected it to CJ Smith at center ice. He fed it ahead to Poturalski, who unleashed a blast just inside the blue line for a 4-1 lead just before the horn.
Milwaukee chopped into the lead with Jimmy Huntington’s power-play goal at 2:29 of the third, but the Wolves’ fourth line responded just 34 seconds later as Rees set up Mattheos for a snapper at 3:03 to give the Wolves a 5-2 margin.
Milwaukee head coach Karl Taylor removed his goaltender with 4:04 to play to try to spark a rally, but Drury delivered an empty-net goal from the red line with 3:20 to go.
Lyon (4-0) recorded his highest save total of the postseason (33) to keep his record spotless. Ingram (1-2) stopped 17 of 21 shots in the opening 40 minutes before being replaced by Devin Cooley, who posted 12 saves in the third.
The Wolves host the Admirals in Game 2 at 3 p.m. Sunday for Papa Johns Family Sunday, which features several fun activities for the whole family. The scene shifts to Milwaukee for Game 3 Wednesday night and, if necessary, Game 4 Friday night. The Wolves will host Game 5, if necessary, at 3 p.m. Sunday, May 29. For the best ticket deals, visit ChicagoWolves.com/Playoffs or contact a team representative at [email protected].