CHICAGO WOLVES (2-0)
AT STOCKTON HEAT (0-2)
GOING BACK TO CALI
For just the third time in the last 22 seasons, the Chicago Wolves find themselves on a mission in the Golden State. The stakes are just as high as the last trip, when the Wolves visited San Diego during the 2019 Western Conference Finals and took two out of three games to claim a 3-2 series lead on the way to finishing off the Gulls in six games.
The Wolves’ last game in California — May 25, 2019 — stands as a singular moment in Wolves and AHL postseason history. Midway through the third period of that Game 5, Chicago goaltender Max Lagace was credited with a goal when San Diego teenager Ines Lundestrom sent a pass backward from the red line that slid between his teammates and into the empty net. Lagace’s marker stands as the only goaltender goal in Wolves history and became the first goal by a goaltender in AHL postseason history. Springfield rookie Joel Hofer joined the club May 12 when he scored into an empty net against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
Overall, this marks the Wolves’ fifth trip to California during the playoffs. Each of the last three times — 1998, 2000 and 2019 — the Wolves have moved on to the league finals.
TWO EVEN TEAMS
Yes, the Chicago Wolves own a 2-0 lead in this best-of-7 series, but everybody in the Wolves’ room understands their two-game lead doesn’t necessarily indicate any superiority over Stockton.
How close are the AHL’s best two regular-season teams? In Game 1, they were tied after the first period, second period and third period. In Game 2, they were tied after the first period and second period and it took Josh Leivo’s unexpected breakaway goal with 17.2 seconds left to avoid yet another overtime.
They have played a total of 122 minutes and 26 seconds in this series. Stockton has led for 13 minutes, 47 seconds, Chicago has led for 10:59 and they have been knotted for 97:40.
“They’re a good team,” Wolves head coach Ryan Warsofsky said after Game 2. “Let’s give credit to them. They outplayed us tonight. They’re probably sitting back saying, ‘We probably should have won that game,’ and rightfully so. But this is a black-and-white sport, right? You either win or you lose.
“There’s some things we’ve done well. There’s some things we can do better. There’s some things they’ve done well. It’s a heavyweight bout, right? There are two really good teams going at it. Mistakes are going to be made, adjustments are going to be made and we’re got to make sure we’re ready for Game 3.”
“They’re a really good team,” Leivo said. “I think they dominated most of that game…we were just fortunate to get that extra chance.”
WE ARE THE WOLVES
These Western Conference Finals represent the 19th time the Chicago Wolves have taken a 2-0 lead in a postseason series (they did the same in the Central Division Semifinals against Rockford and the Central Division Finals versus Milwaukee).
The Wolves have gone on to win every series in which they built a 2-0 lead. Not only have they won every series, they’ve only been pushed to the limit twice: The 2008 West Division Finals against Rockford and the 2010 West Division Semifinals versus Milwaukee.
FIRST TWO GAMES
- Veteran forward Josh Leivo scored a breakaway goal with 17.2 seconds left to give the Wolves the dramatic Game 2 win at Allstate Arena.
- Rookie forwards Jack Drury and Noel Gunler scored goals while forward David Gust earned the only assist on both.
- Goaltender Pyotr Kochetkov posted 33 saves to earn the win in his AHL postseason debut.
- Rookie forward Jamieson Rees corraled a rebound and fired it home 2:26 into overtime to give the Wolves in the Game 1 victory in Western Conference Finals play.
- Forward Josh Leivo produced two power-play goals and one assist while defenseman Jalen Chatfield added one goal and one assist as Chicago rallied from a 3-1 second-period deficit.
- Goaltender Alex Lyon posted 24 saves to improve to 7-1 in the postseason.
By the numbers
1: Rookie goaltender Pyotr Kochetkov made his AHL postseason debut in Game 2 Monday night and stopped 33 shots to earn the victory. The 22-year-old from Russia is one of the rare players who competed in the Stanley Cup Playoffs before the Calder Cup Playoffs. During his recent six-week stint with the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes, Kochetkov stepped in for the injured Antti Raanta on May 5 (in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference First Round against Boston) and rejected 30 of 32 shots to pick up the win in his first Stanley Cup appearance.
3: Stockton’s roster features three players with direct ties to the Wolves. Forward Alex Gallant, who posted an assist in Game 1, was a regular in the lineup for the 2019 Wolves squad that reached the Calder Cup Finals. He ranked second on the squad with 102 penalty minutes. Forward Tyrell Goulbourne suited up for 53 of a possible 61 games for the 2019-20 Wolves. Heat defenseman Connor Mackey’s father, David, capped his 14-year professional career by helping the Wolves win the 2000 Turner Cup, when he produced 5 goals in 45 regular-season games. Connor attended Barrington High School, where he was coached by former Wolves great Steve Martins. Connor also played for Steve Maltais, the Wolves’ all-time leading scorer, for Team Illinois.
4: There are just four teams left in the chase for the 2022 Calder Cup — and the Wolves are the only franchise that also was a part of the final four in 2019 (the last time the Calder Cup Playoffs were contested). While Chicago owns a 2-0 lead in the West, the Laval Rocket (the North Division’s No. 3 seed) and the Springfield Thunderbirds (the Atlantic Division’s No. 2 seed) split the first two games in the Eastern Conference Finals. They start Game 3 at 6 p.m. today Chicago time.
5: The Wolves have won their last five postseason games that required overtime, which includes Game 1 of these Western Conference Finals. The team’s streak began in Game 1 of the 2019 Central Division Finals when Cody Glass beat the Iowa Wild. Glass delivered another OT game-winner in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals against the San Diego Gulls. Daniel Carr scored 6:01 into the second overtime of Game 4 at San Diego, then Stefan Matteau delivered in Game 1 of the Calder Cup Finals at Charlotte.
6: The Wolves have relied on the same six defensemen for every postseason game: Jalen Chatfield, Cavan Fitzgerald, Josh Jacobs, Joey Keane, Max Lajoie and Jesper Sellgren. Collectively, they have contributed 6 goals, 21 assists and a +38 plus/minus rating. Keane, who quarterbacks the power play, leads in points with 7 assists while Lajoie has produced 3 goals in 9 games after posting 4 goals in 60 regular-season appearances. Another sign of how good this sextet has been? Head coach Ryan Warsofsky insists he has three more defensemen in Chris Bigras, Griffin Mendel and Tarmo Reunanen that he won’t hesitate to play — but the top six have been too impressive to require a break.
9: Wolves forward Josh Leivo, who scored the game-winner Monday night, leads all AHL players this postseason with nine goals. He shares the postseason lead in plus/minus rating at +9. He also owns the league’s longest postseason point streak at, yes, nine games as he has gotten on the scoresheet in each of Chicago’s games. Leivo also leads the way in points (17) and shares the lead in power-play goals (4).
14: The Stockton Heat outshot the Wolves 35-21 in Game 2 Monday night. That minus-14 marks Chicago’s worst shot deficit of the season. In fact, the Wolves had not been outshot in 19 games — a streak that dated back to April 9 when the Manitoba Moose came to Allstate Arena and owned a 28-16 lead in shots. That was the Wolves’ previous worst shot deficit of the year, yet they found a way to win 2-1 in overtime.
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 WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS SCHEDULE
|Game 1||Friday, June 3||Allstate Arena||7 p.m.||CHI 5, STK 4 (OT)|
|Game 2||Monday, June 6||Allstate Arena||7 p.m.||CHI 3, STK 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.