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Leivo, Wolves seize 2-0 series lead

Chicago 3 | Stockton 2
Josh Leivo's breakaway with 17 seconds left wins Game 2

Josh Leivo’s breakaway goal with 17.2 seconds remaining lifted the Chicago Wolves to a 3-2 victory over the Stockton Heat in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals Monday night at Allstate Arena.

Rookie forwards Jack Drury and Noel Gunler also scored goals and David Gust handed out two assists for the Wolves (8-1), who took a 2-0 lead in the best-of-7 series despite finishing with a postseason-low 21 shots on goal.

Stockton (6-3) held the puck just inside its offensive zone when a turnover sent the puck skittering to the middle of the ice for Leivo, who had been stopped by goaltender Dustin Wolf on a similar breakaway in the second period. The next time around, the AHL’s leader in postseason goals and points beat Wolf stick-side.

“I had that breakaway in the second and went low-glove and he made a good save,” Leivo said. “Coming down on (the next) one, I looked up and kind of saw the hole right side low-blocker. I was going to think ‘deke,’ but once I saw that I just released it and fortunate to go in.”

“Credit to him,” said Wolves head coach Ryan Warsofsky. “He scores big goals when you need him to.”

Just as the Wolves owned the final 17 seconds of the game, they owned the first 17 seconds as well.

Drury delivered the fastest opening goal in Wolves postseason history to stake Chicago to a 1-0 lead. David Gust battled a Heat forward for the puck in front of the penalty box and knocked it ahead to Drury, who headed down the left wing to start a 2-on-1 rush. He glanced at teammate Josh Jacobs, noticed Stockton’s defenseman sliding to the ice and went top-shelf 17 seconds into the night.

Stockton responded with Eetu Tuulola’s shorthanded goal 6:57 into the first. Tuulola steered his way through three Wolves, headed to the right circle and fired a wrister that goaltender Pyotr Kochetkov blocked — but it popped over his shoulder and landed across the goal line for a 1-1 knot.

The Heat grabbed its first lead at 7:20 of the second as Justin Kirkland started the rush behind his own net, accepted a pass from Luke Philp in the neutral zone and turned on the jets to find open space in the left circle for a rising wrister.

The Wolves answered with the 20-year-old Gunler’s first postseason goal as a pro. CJ Smith accelerated into the offensive zone near the end of a power play and rimmed the puck behind the Stockton net. Gust hit the defender trying to clear it then, with one hand on his stick, steered a pass to Gunler on the doorstep to surprise Wolf and make it 2-2 at 11:00 of the second.

That’s where the game stood — thanks in part to an extraordinary kick save by defenseman Jalen Chatfield — until Leivo’s heroics in the final seconds.

Kochetkov (1-0), making his AHL postseason debut after spending the last six weeks with the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes, rejected 33 shots to earn the win. Wolf (6-3) posted 18 saves.

The Wolves fly to California to prepare for Game 3 at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday at Stockton Arena. If the series requires more than five games, then the Wolves will host Game 6 on Tuesday, June 14, and Game 7 on Wednesday, June 15. For the best ticket specials, visit ChicagoWolves.com/Playoffs or contact a team representative at [email protected].