CHICAGO WOLVES (3-0)
AT STOCKTON HEAT (0-3)
BLESSED WITH GREAT GOALTENDING
Over the years, the Chicago Wolves’ best teams have succeeded with all sorts of goaltending situations. In 2008, for example, head coach John Anderson started Ondrej Pavelec in all 24 games. Pavelec handled all but 17 minutes of the postseason as the Wolves wound up hoisting the Calder Cup 14 years ago today at Allstate Arena.
But in 2000, when Anderson had Wendell Young and Andrei Trefilov at his disposal, he alternated their starts throughout the Turner Cup Playoffs. They combined for 12 wins in 16 games and Trefilov received the postseason Most Valuable Player award as the Wolves claimed their second league championship on June 5, 2000, at Grand Rapids.
This time around, head coach Ryan Warsofsky has been blessed with the opportunity to follow both of Anderson’s paths. During the first two rounds (shades of 2008), veteran Alex Lyon handled every second of the job against the Rockford IceHogs and the Milwaukee Admirals and delivered a 6-1 record.
But prior to the start of these Western Conference Finals, rookie netminder Pyotr Kochetkov was reassigned to the Wolves following the close of the Carolina Hurricanes’ Stanley Cup Playoffs run (which featured four appearances and one win by Kochetkov).
Lyon won Game 1 in Chicago, then Kochetkov got the call in Game 2. While Kochetkov posted better numbers, Warsofsky determined Lyon should get the shot in Game 3 and the 29-year-old from Baudette, Minnesota, rewarded his coach and the team with his first postseason shutout as the Wolves claimed a 3-0 victory Wednesday night to take a 3-0 series lead.
Who knows who’ll be in net tonight, but Warsofsky knows he has two fine options.
GOOD REASON FOR PANIK
Wolves general manager Wendell Young’s foresight paid off in Game 3 Wednesday night. On March 28, the AHL’s trade deadline day, Young acquired three players: defensemen Chris Bigras and Tarmo Reunanen and forward Richard Panik. In Panik’s case, he was loaned to the Wolves by the NHL’s New York Islanders because the AHL’s Bridgeport Islanders had too many veterans on their roster.
Panik finished his injury rehab and made his Wolves debut on April 9. He spent some time on the Wolves’ top line with captain Andrew Poturalski and Stefan Noesen, but ultimately shifted to the third line when usual first-line left wing CJ Smith returned from injury.
On Wednesday, Panik returned to the top line alongside Poturalski and Noesen and they set him up for Game 3’s game-winning goal in the final minute of the second period — his first postseason tally since Aug. 3, 2020, while playing for the Washington Capitals against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
WE ARE THE WOLVES
Wednesday night’s win has given the Wolves a 3-0 lead in a best-of-7 series for the first time since the 2008 Calder Cup Finals and the ninth time in their 28-year history. Considering the Wolves always have advanced with a 2-0 lead, they obviously have advanced every time they’ve owned a 3-0 lead.
But on only half of the previous eight occasions, the Wolves have gone ahead and completed the sweep in Game 4 — the last sweep coming in the 2007 West Division Semifinals against Milwaukee.
LAST TWO GAMES
- The Wolves pulled within one game of the Calder Cup Finals as they broke open a scoreless game with three goals in the final 21 minutes in Game 3 at Stockton Arena.
- Forward Richard Panik delivered the game’s first goal at 19:16 of the second while forwards Ivan Lodnia and Stefan Noesen added tallies in the third; Panik and Noesen earned one assist apiece.
- Goaltender Alex Lyon stopped 23 shots to earn his first postseason shutout.
- 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.
By the numbers
.900: The Chicago Wolves enter tonight’s Game 4 with a 9-1 postseason record, which is the team’s best start in their 21 playoff appearances. The franchise’s previous best start in the first 10 was 8-2 in 1998, 2000, 2001, 2005 and 2007.
2: When the Chicago Wolves have given up 2 goals or fewer this season, they’ve been virtually unbeatable. Their 3-0 victory in Game 3 Wednesday night marked the eighth time in 10 Calder Cup Playoff games that they’ve held their opponent to two or fewer and they’ve won all 8. During the regular season, the Wolves posted a 36-0-3-2 record when surrendering two or fewer. The last time the Wolves lost in regulation in such a situation was Jan. 19, 2020, when Rockford’s Collin Delia outdueled the Wolves’ Garret Sparks 2-0 at Allstate Arena.
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 are one game away from the Calder Cup Finals in the West, the Springfield Thunderbirds (the Atlantic Division’s No. 2 seed) hold a 2-1 lead over the Laval Rocket (the North Division’s No. 3 seed) in the Eastern Conference Finals. They play Game 4 at 6 p.m. today Chicago time.
5: The Wolves own a 21-22 record all-time in postseason overtime games, but they’ve won their last five games that needed more than 60 minutes to be decided. That 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 +44 plus/minus rating. Keane, who quarterbacks the power play, leads in points with 7 assists while Lajoie has produced 3 goals in 10 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 did not score a point in Game 3 Wednesday night, which marked the end of his nine-game point streak that’s the longest in the 2022 Calder Cup Playoffs. Leivo continues to lead all postseason players with 9 goals and 17 points. He’s also one of six players who has amassed a league-leading +9 plus/minus rating. Three of the other five are his teammates: center Jack Drury and defensemen Cavan Fitzgerald and Josh Jacobs.
14: Alex Lyon became the 14th goaltender in Wolves history to register a postseason shutout — and the first to do so since Jake Allen on May 1, 2014 — when he stopped all 23 shots he saw during Game 3 Wednesday night. Lyon joined the club that also features Allen, Stephane Beauregard, Fred Brathwaite, Michael Garnett, Kari Lehtonen, Drew MacIntyre, Peter Mannino, Norm Maracle, Pasi Nurminen, Ondrej Pavelec, Richard Shulmistra, Andrei Trefilov and Wendell Young.
16: This fun fact is courtesy of Mark Stencel, the Wolves’ longtime master of graphics (and stats) on the team’s television broadcasts: Richard Panik’s opening goal Wednesday night made him the 16th Wolves player to produce a goal during these playoffs. In contrast, the Wolves have allowed just 19 goals over their first 10 playoff 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 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.||CHI 3, STK 0|
|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.