Rookie goaltender Pyotr Kochetkov stopped 28 shots to earn his first shutout in North America and lead the Chicago Wolves to the Calder Cup Finals with a 3-0 victory over the Stockton Heat in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals Tuesday night at Allstate Arena.
Kochetkov and Stockton rookie Dustin Wolf matched save-for-save for more than two periods until Wolves rookie forward Ivan Lodnia broke the scoreless tie 8:35 into the third period. Captain Andrew Poturalski added a breakaway goal and Josh Leivo notched an empty-netter in the final 80 seconds to clinch matters.
The Wolves earned their eighth league finals appearance in their 28-year history — and became the first team since the 2010 Hershey Bears to reach back-to-back finals.
“It’s incredible,” Poturalski said. “Every single guy has contributed. It’s just so much fun coming in every day. It doesn’t feel like a job. We all truly love each other in there. We’re excited to be in the spot we’re in, but we know the job’s not done.”
By virtue of posting the AHL’s best record during the regular season, the Wolves own home-ice advantage for the Calder Cup Finals and will host either the Springfield Thunderbirds or the Laval Rocket in Game 1 at 3 p.m. Sunday at Allstate Arena. Springfield hosts Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Wednesday.
In order for the Wolves to reach the Finals, they had to defeat the AHL team with the second-best regular-season record. Of the 383-plus minutes played in the six-game series, the Wolves and Heat were either tied or within one goal for 363 of those minutes.
“They’re a really good hockey team,” said Wolves head coach Ryan Warsofsky. “That’s the best team we’ve faced all year — not even close. They’re well-coached, they’ve got a great goaltender, they have great leaders. Honestly, very similar teams in the way we play, the experienced players and the young players.
“If you’re a fan and you’re following this series, you’re probably sitting there saying, ‘I got my money’s worth.’ Because it could’ve gone either way in the first two games. It could’ve gone either way in (Games) 3, 4 and 5. And here we are.”
The Wolves killed four Stockton power-play opportunities during the first period as the teams wound up tied after 20 minutes for the sixth time in as many games.
The Wolves earned two power plays at the start of the second period — including 36 seconds of 5-on-3 time — but could not convert either. Chicago went on to outshoot Stockton by a 15-5 margin, but Heat goaltender Dustin Wolf made multiple highlight-reel saves to keep the Wolves at bay.
Lodnia finally snapped the scoreless tie 8:35 into the third as the Wolves’ third line came through. Lodnia started the play deep in the defensive zone as he fed the puck to Spencer Smallman, who sent it ahead to Jamieson Rees on the left wing as he crossed into the offensive zone.
Rees wound up in the right corner and dished to Smallman below the right circle. Smallman spied Lodnia all alone in the left circle and dished a backhand to set up Lodnia’s one-timer that eluded Wolf for the 1-0 lead.
Poturalski delivered the insurance goal when he picked up a loose puck at center ice, raced down the slot and beat Wolf top-shelf with 1:20 to play. Leivo added his AHL-best 11th goal of the postseason with an empty-netter at 19:16.
Wolf (8-5) stopped 35 of 37 shots for the Heat (8-5) while Kochetkov improved his record to 2-1.
In addition to hosting Game 1 on Father’s Day at Allstate Arena, the Wolves will be the home team for Game 2 on Monday, June 20 and, if necessary, Game 6 on Tuesday, June 28, and Game 7 on Wednesday, June 29. To get the best ticket deals, visit ChicagoWolves.com/Playoffs or contact a team representative at WolvesTix@ChicagoWolves.com.