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Chicago Wolves' veterans lead the way in Game 2 blowout win

Greg Boysen Avatar
June 21, 2022

The Chicago Wolves came into Monday night’s Game 2 of the Calder Cup Finals facing adversity for the first time. Sure, they lost back-to-back overtime games to the Stockton Heat in the Western Conference Finals, but that occurred when they had a 3-0 series lead, and the outcome never felt in danger.

But after Sunday’s 5-4 overtime loss to the Springfield Thunderbirds on Sunday, the Wolves found themselves down in a series for the first time this postseason.

Including Game 1, the Wolves have scored at least four goals in a game 46 times. Sunday was just their third loss in those contests. As expected with the quick turnaround, both teams switched goaltenders, with Pyotr Kochetkov getting the start for Chicago and Joel Hofer manning the visitors’ crease. Wolves’ head coach Ryan Warsofsky put veteran C.J. Smith back in the lineup and gave rookie defenseman Griffin Mendel his first taste of Calder Cup playoff action. The Wolves had dressed the same six defensemen for the first 14 games of the postseason.

Chicago hit the four-goal mark for the 47th time this season, and they did it in just over half a period. The home team got off to a fast start when former Blackhawk Richard Panik scored his second goal of the series off a big rebound at 1:42. Spencer Smallman doubled the lead just 29 seconds later to set off more fireworks.

Six minutes later, defenseman Joey Keane increased the lead to 3-0 by scoring his first playoff goal from the right point. Shortly after this goal, the Wolves got a 5-on-3 penalty for a full two minutes, and Josh Leivo buried his league-leading 12th goal of the postseason to put his team up by four.

“We were working harder,” Warsofsky said of his team’s start. “We played with more detail in our game. The power play got clicking again, and that’s important. Definitely a better start. A more consistent game, for sure.”

The Wolves used a failed clearing attempt to increase the lead to 5-0 early in the second period. Stefan Noesen found the stick of Andrew Poturalski at the front of the net for the captain’s sixth goal of the playoffs. The helper was Noesen’s fourth of the night, tying a franchise record for the most assists and points in a playoff game. It was the first four-assist game in the Calder Cup Finals since Corey Conacher did it for the Norfolk Admirals in 2012. His first assist that night came on a Richard Panik goal, just like Noesen’s on Monday.

Like Game 1, the Thunderbirds refused to roll over and play dead. Defenseman Calle Rosen scored on a 5-on-3 power play. Less than three minutes later, Will Bitten beat Kochetkov to the near post for his team-leading 11th goal of these playoffs.

The third period was full of rough play and post-whistle get-togethers. Leivo netted his second power-play goal of the game midway through the frame to squash any ideas of a major Springfield comeback. His 13th tally set a new franchise record for the most goals in a single postseason.

The story after the game was Warsofsky’s frustration with the officiating. He was particularly upset with a sequence that saw Josh Jacobs and Poturalski getting roughing penalties that led to the Thunderbird’s first goal.

“I’m at a loss for words,” he said. “I’m in there preaching to stay disciplined. Our guys are doing a pretty damn good job of that, and we’re up 5-0. I want you guys to watch it and tell me what you see that put us down 5-on-3. It was an absolute joke. I’m shocked. It’s disappointing we don’t get officiating better than that in this type of game.”

I have had a lot of postgame conversations with Warsofsky over the past two seasons, and that was the maddest I have ever seen him.

On the other side, Thunderbirds’ head coach Drew Bannister was disappointed with the result tonight but is happy with the Windy City split to start the series.

“Momentum changes from game to game,” he said. “We have to have short memories in the playoffs. We’ll regroup and get ourselves ready for Wednesday.

The series now shifts to Massachusetts for the next three games. The Thunderbirds have yet to lose on home ice this postseason. They had 26 home wins during the regular season, more than any other team in the AHL, so the Wolves have a tough task ahead of them.

Photo courtesy of the Chicago Wolves

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