CHICAGO WOLVES (2-1)
AT SPRINGFIELD THUNDERBIRDS (1-2)
Friday, June 24 | 6 p.m. | MassMutual Center | AHLTV
HIGHWAY TO THE DANGER ZONE
None of the Chicago Wolves’ players were alive when “Top Gun” was released in 1986, but that hasn’t stopped them from embracing the sequel. Shortly after “Top Gun: Maverick” was released May 27, a pack of 10 Wolves or so went to see the movie. They raved about it so much, it inspired several other players to get to the theater. Captain Andrew Poturalski recently described the team as “obsessed” with the movie and that some players have seen it twice.
These days, when the Wolves retreat to their dressing room after a victory, they blast Dua Lipa’s “Levitating” first as they have done all season — but they shift quickly into Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone.” and that inspires some Wolves to sing along loudly with the chorus.
Considering the Wolves relish the highway to the danger zone, it seems unlikely they ease back on the throttle during today’s Game 4 at MassMutual Center. But human beings’ response to success can be peculiar, so there’s no way to know how they’ll react after a Game 3 performance that Wolves head coach Ryan Warsofsky termed “kind of a perfect playoff road win.”
Then again, the Wolves didn’t get this far by wasting much time on complacency.
“I think part of being a pro is being ready to play,” Warsofsky said. “It doesn’t matter where. That’s something we’ve preached since Day 1. It doesn’t matter the day (or) the time. If there’s zero people in the building or it’s a sold-out building. In Stockton, in Springfield, on Mars. We’re gonna show up and we’re gonna compete and we’re gonna play. We have a great group of competitors in there that want to win.”
PANIK PAYING OFF
In 2013, Wolves forward Richard Panik played for the Syracuse Crunch in an ill-fated bid to beat the Grand Rapids Griffins in the Calder Cup Finals. The Griffins claimed that league championship in six games, but Panik could hardly be faulted as he scored one goal in each of the last five games.
That performance vaulted Panik into a full-time role with the Tampa Bay Lightning — and he proceeded to play 494 regular-season games and 20 Stanley Cup contests from June 2013 through November 2021. Wolves general manager Wendell Young acquired Panik from the New York Islanders via loan at the AHL trade deadline on March 28 — Panik was stuck in a veteran logjam with the AHL’s Bridgeport Islanders — and the 31-year-old has picked up where he left off in the 2013 Finals.
Panik has posted one goal in each of the first three Finals games — including the opening goal in Games 2 and 3 — to push his Finals goal streak to eight games. If you include Panik’s Finals performance for the Norfolk Admirals when they won the 2012 Calder Cup, he owns 10 goals, 2 assists and a +7 plus/minus rating in 13 Finals games.
WE ARE THE WOLVES
The Chicago Wolves have earned 10 shutouts this season — seven during the regular season and three in the Calder Cup Playoffs. How has the team fared in the game following each of its shutouts?
The Wolves recorded victories in the game after each of their first four shutouts, but went just 1-4 in the game after each of their last five shutouts. That includes a Game 4 overtime loss June 10 at Stockton and a Game 1 overtime loss Sunday afternoon in Game 1 against Springfield.
LAST TWO GAMES
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 22: CHICAGO 4, (AT) SPRINGFIELD 0
- Rookie goaltender Pyotr Kochetkov stopped all 36 shots he faced to spark the Wolves to the Game 3 win and secure a 2-1 lead in the Calder Cup Finals.
- Forwards Richard Panik, Ivan Lodnia and Stefan Noesen and defenseman Jalen Chatfield scored goals while Josh Leivo and Jack Drury handed out 2 assists apiece.
- Kochetkov improved his postseason record to 4-1 and his goals-against average to 1.58.
MONDAY, JUNE 20: (AT) CHICAGO 6, SPRINGFIELD 2
- The Wolves pounced from the start with 2 goals in the opening 2:11 and a 4-0 lead in the first 10:12 to roll to the Game 2 victory and even the series.
- Josh Leivo scored twice while Richard Panik, Spencer Smallman, Joey Keane and Andrew Poturalski also scored and Stefan Noesen tied the team’s postseason record with 4 assists.
- Goaltender Pyotr Kochetkov stopped 22 shots to earn the win.
By the numbers
2: For the first time since April 6-9, rookie goaltender Pyotr Kochetkov has made back-to-back starts for the Wolves. Head coach Ryan Warsofsky’s decision to adjust his usual goaltender rotation paid off as Kochetkov posted a 36-save shutout in Game 3 Wednesday night to earn his second blanking in his last three appearances. Kochetkov owns a 4-1 record, a 1.58 goals-against average and a .950 save percentage since rejoining the Wolves prior to the start of the Western Conference Finals. “I thought Kochetkov was outstanding (Wednesday) night,” Warsofsky said. “He made some big saves and you need that in the playoffs, right? At any level, you need your goaltender to make some big saves, especially on the road. He’s a great kid. He works hard, so he deserves this. He has put a lot of work in these last 12 months. I think he went to the KHL traning camp (for Nizhny Novgorod) on June 30, so he’s going on 12 months here.”
3: The Wolves have recorded three postseason shutouts for the first time in franchise history. Veteran Alex Lyon registered the first one June 8 in Game 3 at Stockton, then rookie Pyotr Kochetkov followed with shutouts on June 14 (in Game 6 vs. Stockton) and Wednesday night at Springfield. Chicago has posted 10 shutouts in the regular season and playoffs combined, which shares second on the team’s all-time single-season list behind the 1999-2000 duo of Wendell Young and Andrei Trefilov (11 shutouts).
4: Captain Andrew Poturalski and alternate captain Stefan Noesen added their names into the postseason portion of the Wolves record book during the 6-2 Game 2 victory Monday night. Noesen became the fifth Wolves player — and the first since AHL Hall of Famer Darren Haydar on May 4, 2007 — to hand out four assists in a playoff game as he earned all four helpers in the opening 25 minutes, 18 seconds. Noesen and Poturalski became the 10th and 11th players in Wolves annals, respectively, to total four points in a postseason game. Poturalski joined the list with 1 goal (set up by Noesen) and 3 assists. No Wolves skater had amassed four points in a postseason game since Jason Krog’s 3 goals and 1 assist fueled the Calder Cup-clinching Game 6 win over the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins on June 10, 2008.
5: The Wolves have five people in their dressing room who are trying to capture back-to-back Calder Cups. Captain Andrew Poturalski won the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy as the postseason Most Valuable Player when he posted 12 goals and 11 assists in 18 games for the 2019 Cup-winning Charlotte Checkers. Head coach Ryan Warsofsky was the top lieutenant to Checkers head coach Mike Vellucci in 2019. Defenseman Jesper Sellgren posted 3 goals and 1 assist in 11 games for the Checkers, then returned to Europe until this season. Forward Stelio Mattheos delivered 3 goals and 1 assist, albeit in 14 Calder Cup Playoff games. Center Spencer Smallman was listed on Charlotte’s roster, but did not participate in the postseason.
6: With his 4-0 shutout Wednesday night, Pyotr Kochetkov became the sixth Wolves goaltender to deliver two shutouts in the same postseason. He joined the ranks of Andrei Trefilov (2000), Richard Shulmistra (2001), Pasi Nurminen (2002), Kari Lehtonen (2005) and Ondrej Pavelec (2008).
26: Forward Josh Leivo continues to climb the Wolves postseason charts. When he scored 2 goals during the Game 2 win Monday, he set the team record with 13 postseason goals. When he handed out 2 assists during the Game 3 win Wednesday, he boosted his totals to 13 assists and 26 points in 16 games. His points total ranks fifth on the Wolves’ all-time postseason list behind Jason Krog (12 goals, 26 assists in 2008), Rob Brown (7 goals, 26 assists in 2002), Darren Haydar (12 goals, 15 assists in 2008) and Alexander Semak (10 goals, 17 assists in 1998). Krog and Semak went on to earn postseason MVP honors, but Leivo has the best points-per game (1.63) of the quintet. “When (Josh) is engaged, he’s the best player on the ice,” Wolves head coach Ryan Warsofsky said after Game 2. “When he’s moving his feet, he’s a difference-maker. He scores big goal after big goal.”
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 CALDER CUP FINALS SCHEDULE
|Game 1||Sunday, June 19||Allstate Arena||3 p.m.||SPR 5, CHI 4 (OT)|
|Game 2||Monday, June 20||Allstate Arena||7 p.m.||CHI 6, SPR 2|
|Game 3||Wednesday, June 22||MassMutual Center||6 p.m.||CHI 4, SPR 0|
|Game 4||Friday, June 24||MassMutual Center||6 p.m.|
|Game 5||Saturday, June 25||MassMutual Center||6 p.m.|
|Game 6*||Tuesday, June 28||Allstate Arena||7 p.m.||Game 6|
|Game 7*||Wednesday, June 29||Allstate Arena||7 p.m.||Game 7|
All games are streamed on AHLTV.