MILWAUKEE ADMIRALS (0-1)
AT CHICAGO WOLVES (1-0)
When the Chicago Wolves produced the AHL’s best regular-season record (which doubled as the best regular-season record in franchise history), a lot of credit went to AHL scoring champ Andrew Poturalski and AHL goals champ Stefan Noesen and all of the goaltenders and defensemen who served as the bedrock of the league’s best defense. People also paid homage to standout veterans Josh Leivo and CJ Smith and rookie center Jack Drury.
Not often did the members of the Wolves’ current fourth line — left wing Jamieson Rees, center Vasili Ponomarev and right wing Stelio Mattheos — rate a mention.
But as the Wolves have bolted to a 4-0 start in the Calder Cup Playoffs while winning every game by at least 3 goals — including Saturday night’s 6-2 victory over the Milwaukee Admirals in Game 1 of the best-of-5 Central Division Finals — it’s clear the Wolves’ fourth line has earned a share of the spotlight.
The 22-year-old Mattheos, who registered 2 goals and 8 assists in 59 games during the regular season, owns 2 goals and 2 assists in 4 postseason games. That includes 1 goal, 1 assist and a +3 plus/minus rating Saturday night.
The 21-year-old Rees, who posted 7 goals and 17 assists in 61 games, owns 1 goal and 2 assists in 4 postseason games. That includes the game-winning goal and 1 assist Saturday night. And the 20-year-old Ponomarev? He dished a pinpoint assist on Rees’ game-winner to move his totals to 4 goals and 8 assists in 15 games since coming to North America at the start of April.
It’s worth noting that Ponomarev and Rees are NHL second-round picks and Mattheos was selected in the third round, so it’s not like they don’t have nice pedigrees and high personal expectations. It’s just a sign of the Wolves’ depth that they find themselves on the fourth line these days. And perhaps it’s a sign of their hunger to excel that they’ve stepped to the fore in the postseason.
“I thought the last three practices was the top three practices of their careers,” said Wolves head coach Ryan Warsofsky. “Mattheos, he’s been around a little bit longer. But ‘Reeser,’ he has been practicing a little bit better and we’ve said it all year long: When you practice better, it translates into a game because it’s habits-based. It started Wednesday in practice for Rees and that translated into his game tonight.”
(Ponomarev, for what it’s worth, was the first Wolves player on the ice for every practice this week. That included the optional workout on Tuesday, when he dragged a bag filled with pucks on the ice and started working on his snipes from the faceoff circle).
WARSOFSKY WANTS MORE
Yes, the Wolves won Game 1 by four goals Saturday night. But Milwaukee outshot the Wolves 13-5 in the first period for Chicago’s lowest shot total since April 9 versus Manitoba — a stretch of 15 games.
“We’ve got to play better,” said Wolves head coach Ryan Warsofsky. “We’ve got to play faster. We’ve got to play quicker. We’ve got to play harder. All the terms that a hockey coach uses at the end of a game — usually when you lose — that you’ve got to do. We’ll take the win. I thought we battled. We got to our identity at some points, but it just wasn’t good enough. It needs to be more consistent.”
GAME 1 REWIND
- After Milwaukee pulled into a 1-1 tie early in the second period, the Wolves responded with three consecutive goals to trigger the Game 1 runaway at Allstate Arena.
- Rookie center Jack Drury scored two goals while forwards Josh Leivo, Jamieson Rees and Stelio Mattheos added one goal and one assist apiece and Max Lajoie handed out three assists.
- Goaltender Alex Lyon posted 33 saves to earn the win.
By the numbers
1: For the first time in their 28-year history, the Chicago Wolves led their league in Goals-Against Average with a 2.55 GAA. Though the Wolves had 12 days between the end of their regular season and the start of the postseason, their defense didn’t skip a beat as Chicago enters the Central Division Finals with the best postseason GAA as well. Goaltender Alex Lyon has been in net throughout the postseason as the Wolves have surrendered just 6 goals on 101 shots in their first four games. Lyon enters Game 2 today with a 1.50 GAA and .941 save percentage during the 2022 Calder Cup Playoffs and a 1.89 GAA and .940 save percentage for his 17 career postseason appearances.
4: Saturday’s Game 1 served as the 35th postseason game between the Wolves and the Admirals in their long history, but the 6-2 win tied for Chicago’s biggest postseason margin of victory over Milwaukee. On April 21, 2001, the Wolves claimed a 5-1 home win over the Admirals. Wolves general manager Wendell Young stopped 32 shots to earn First Star honors for the final time in his 18-year professional career. He retired after the Wolves closed out the season in the Turner Cup Finals.
8: The Wolves have a chance to pick up two Division Finals wins before any other team gets one. It won’t be easy, though, because top-seeded Charlotte and second-seeded Springfield open their Atlantic Division Finals at 2:05 p.m. Chicago time — an hour before the Wolves and Admirals drop the puck for Game 2. And, of course, it won’t be easy to defeat Milwaukee twice in 24 hours. The North Division Finals (featuring third-seeded Laval and fifth-seeded Rochester) start at 6 p.m. Sunday while the Pacific Divison Finals get underway at 8:30 Monday when top-seeded Stockton hosts third-seeded Colorado.
17: Between the Wolves and Admirals, there are 17 players on the Division Finals rosters who played for the Wolves last season when Chicago had partnership deals with Carolina and Nashville. On the Wolves’ side, there’s forwards David Cotton, David Gust, Stelio Mattheos, Jamieson Rees, Spencer Smallman and Ryan Suzuki and defensemen Cavan Fitzgerald, Joey Keane and Max Lajoie. All but Cotton and Suzuki played in Game 1 Saturday. On the Admirals’ side, there’s forwards Luke Evangelista, Tommy Novak and Cole Smith, defensemen Jeremy Davies, Marc Del Gaizo and Josh Healey and goaltenders Devin Cooley and Connor Ingram. All but Evangelista played in Game 1 Saturday.
20: Today’s Papa Johns Family Sunday promotion will draw plenty of families to Allstate Arena — including one that features one of the greatest players in Wolves and Admirals history. AHL Hall of Famer Darren Haydar, who wore No. 20 while captaining the Wolves to the 2008 Calder Cup and sharing top scoring honors for the Admirals’ 2004 Calder Cup run, will be in the house with his wife, Sara, and their three boys. Haydar stands as the all-time leading scorer in AHL postseason history with 143 points (63G, 80A). He ranks third on the Wolves’ all-time points list (368) and fourth on the goals list (128) in 342 regular-season games. During his four seasons with Milwaukee, Haydar posted 276 points (110G, 163A) in 293 regular-season games.
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 CENTRAL DIVISION FINALS SCHEDULE
|Game 1||Saturday, May 21||Allstate Arena||7 p.m.||CHI 6, MIL 2|
|Game 2||Sunday, May 22||Allstate Arena||3 p.m.||Game 2 Tickets|
|Game 3||Wednesday, May 25||Panther Arena||7 p.m.|
|Game 4*||Friday, May 27||Panther Arena||7 p.m.|
|Game 5*||Sunday, May 29||Allstate Arena||3 p.m.||Game 5 tickets (if necessary)|
All games are streamed on AHLTV.