Welcome to Wolves Insider, presented by Rivers Casino: the weekly report that gives you the latest Chicago Wolves news as the Macgregor Kilpatrick Trophy winners enter the Western Conference Finals in their quest for the organization’s fifth league championship.
WHAT TO KNOW BEFORE THE STOCKTON SERIES
The Chicago Wolves and the Stockton Heat finished with the AHL’s top two records during the 2021-22 regular season — the Wolves with a franchise-record .724 points percentage and the Heat at .713 — but didn’t face each other. To take it one step farther, the top-seeded Wolves and second-seeded Heat didn’t have any opponents in common, either.
Without any first-hand data on which to rely, the Wolves coaching staff have been relying on other methods — scouring video, seeking opinions from trusted friends in the coaching business, etc. — to prepare for Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals at 7 p.m. Friday at Allstate Arena (featuring $3 Beer Night).
“This is our toughest opponent yet,” said Wolves head coach Ryan Warsofsky. “They’re a skilled team with goaltending and coaching. They’ve got it all, so we’ve got to make sure we’re ready. We’ll know what they do, but it’s more about what we do and how we play — and making sure we’re doing that consistently.”
Wolves fans will recognize two names on Stockton’s roster: physical forwards Alex Gallant and Tyrell Goulbourne. Gallant handles a similar role he filled for the Wolves’ 2019 Calder Cup Final squad: He posted 3 goals, 3 assists and 115 penalty minutes in 53 regular-season games and owns 1 goal, 1 assist and 2 PIMS while playing in all seven Heat postseason games. Goulbourne has appeared in two postseason games with 1 assist.
Stockton goaltender Dustin Wolf just tied an AHL single-series postseason record with 3 shutouts against Colorado in the Pacific Division Finals. The 21-year-old won the vote for the Aldege “Buz” Bastien Memorial Award that goes to the AHL’s best regular-season goaltender (33-9-4, 2.35 goals-against average, .924 save percentage). Wolf’s postseason numbers (6-1 record, 1.82 GAA, .941 save percentage) are remarkably similar to the Wolves’ Alex Lyon (6-1 record, 1.87 GAA, .926 save percentage).
Stockton’s offense features Matthew Phillips (31 goals, 35 assists in 65 games) and 20-year-old Jakob Pelletier (27 goals, 35 assists in 66 games). Pelletier was selected two picks before the Wolves’ Ryan Suzuki in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft.
The Wolves led the AHL in fewest goals allowed during the regular season (2.55 per game), but the Heat ranked third at 2.72 and boasted the league’s best penalty kill at 86.6 percent. Defenseman Connor Mackey (son of former Blackhawks forward David Mackey) grew up in Chicago’s northwest suburbs and served as captain for Barrington High School’s team during his junior year. Not only did his dad coach him, but Wolves all-time greats Steve Martins and Steve Maltais did as well.
TWO GOALTENDERS RETURN FROM CAROLINA
The Carolina Hurricanes’ bid for their first Stanley Cup title since 2006 ended Monday in Game 7 of the second round. That verdict meant the Canes were able to reassign goaltenders Pyotr Kochetkov and Jack LaFontaine to the Wolves Tuesday.
Kochetkov, who went 13-1-1 for Chicago over the final two months of the regular season, appeared in 3 regular-season and 4 postseason games for the Canes and posted a 4-2-0 record with a 3.20 goals-against average and .883 save percentage.
CALDER CUP UPDATE
While the Wolves and the Stockton Heat open their best-of-7 Western Conference Finals on Friday, the Laval Rocket and the Springfield Thunderbirds open their best-of-7 Eastern Conference Finals on Saturday. The Thunderbirds, who came out of the Atlantic Division as the No. 2 seed, hold the home-ice advantage over the Rocket, who claimed the North Division Finals as the No. 3 seed.
To keep track of all the latest playoff news for the Wolves and the AHL and to purchase Calder Cup Playoff tickets, click here.
One day after turning 29, the Wolves’ veteran forward delivered the second hat trick of his 10-year professional career to guide Chicago to its Central Division Finals-clinching Game 4 win Friday night at Milwaukee. Leivo shares the AHL postseason lead in scoring with 13 points (6G, 7A) and leads in plus-minus rating (+11) as he has produced at least one point in all seven postseason games.
On Monday, the Wolves captain fulfilled a dream by getting to throw out the first pitch before Game 2 of the Cubs’ doubleheader with Milwaukee. Poturalski was a stud shortstop in high school when he wasn’t busy playing hockey. Poturalski set a career-high by firing 11 shots in Wednesday’s Game 3 at Milwaukee. He owns 9 points (3G, 6A) in the playoffs.
The Wolves have relied solely on this 29-year-old in goal throughout the Calder Cup Playoffs — and he continues to prove he’s built for the postseason. Lyon posted a 6-1 record with a 1.87 goals-against average and a .926 save percentage against Rockford and Milwaukee, which moved his career postseason resume to a 12-7 record, 1.95 GAA and .936 save percentage.
FRIDAY, MAY 27: CHICAGO 5, (AT) MILWAUKEE 1
- Josh Leivo scored one goal in each period — a pair of power-play goals and then an empty-netter — as the Wolves dominated Game 4 to advance to the Western Conference Finals.
- Defenseman Max Lajoie opened the scoring 3:56 into the night while Leivo and defenseman Josh Jacobs gave Chicago a 3-0 lead after one period; Stefan Noesen handed out two assists.
- Goaltender Alex Lyon stopped 17 of 18 shots to improve to 6-1 during the postseason.
WEDNESDAY, MAY 25: (AT) MILWAUKEE 4, CHICAGO 2
- After a scoreless first period, the Admirals converted three consecutive power-play chances and never trailed in their Game 3 victory at Panther Arena.
- Rookie center Jack Drury scored nine seconds into the third period to slice the deficit to 2-1 while forward Josh Leivo notched one goal and one assist as both extended point streaks to six games.
- Goaltender Alex Lyon posted 21 saves.
THE WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS SCHEDULE
|Game 1||Friday, June 3||Allstate Arena||7 p.m.||Game 1|
|Game 2||Monday, June 6||Allstate Arena||7 p.m.||Game 2|
|Game 3||Wednesday, June 8||Stockton Arena||8:30 p.m.|
|Game 4||Friday, June 10||Stockton Arena||9 p.m.|
|Game 5*||Saturday, June 11||Stockton Arena||8 p.m.|
|Game 6*||Tuesday, June 14||Allstate Arena||7 p.m.||Game 6 (if necessary)|
|Game 7*||Wednesday, June 15||Allstate Arena||7 p.m.||Game 7 (if necessary)|
All games are streamed on AHLTV.