CHICAGO – Needing five games apiece to move on, the Central Division Final features the #1 and #3 seeds, the Chicago Wolves and Iowa Wild.
Chicago overcame two series deficits – 1-0, and 2-1, – to move onto the second round of the Calder Cup Playoffs for the second time in three seasons, and first under head coach Rocky Thompson.
On the other hand, Iowa jumped out to an early 2-0 series lead but needed three games to put the final nail in the Milwaukee Admirals’ postseason coffin. This is Iowa’s first season ever qualifying for the Calder Cup Playoffs, and thus is also its first-ever visit to the second round.
Neither team really has the upper hand in rest, as the Chicago Wolves-Grand Rapids Griffins series finished Sunday and the Iowa Wild-Milwaukee Admirals season concluded Monday. But, Chicago’s line up was beat up to end the regular season and it lost even more bodies in a first-round battle which saw 236 combined penalty minutes in just five games. Milwaukee and Iowa were not far behind, with 190 combined PIMs, but this is still over two periods fewer of minutes.
These were far and away the two-highest penalty minutes of any series in the American Hockey League, and is not a trend to expect to continue in the second round. In the regular season series, Chicago recorded 87 PIMs in the eight games played, and Iowa had 85, a sharp contrast to each’s playoff experience.
Final Regular Season Records:
Chicago Wolves: 44-22-6-4, 98 points – Central Division and Western Conference Champion
Iowa Wild: 37-26-8-5, 87 points – 3rd in Central Division and 4th in Western Conference
How They Got Here:
Chicago Wolves: defeated Grand Rapids, 3-2
Iowa Wild: defeated Milwaukee, 3-2
Series Schedule (Home Team in BOLD CAPS and all times local):
Game 1 – Wednesday, May 1 – Iowa at CHICAGO 7:00 pm CT
Game 2 – Thursday, May 2 – Iowa at CHICAGO 7:00 pm CT
Game 3 – Sunday, May 5 – Chicago at IOWA 3:00 pm CT
Game 4 – Wednesday, May 8 – Chicago at IOWA 7:00 pm CT
*Game 5 – Friday, May 10 – Chicago at IOWA 7:00 pm CT
*Game 6 – Monday, May 13 – Iowa at CHICAGO 7:00 pm CT
*Game 7 – Wednesday, May 15 – Iowa at CHICAGO 7:00 pm CT
*=> If Necessary
Season Series Recap:
The eight-game regular season series saw both teams going 4-2-2-0, and winning two games apiece at home and on the road. For the Wolves, Oscar Dansk (1-1) played just two games, while Max Lagace (3-1-2) saw six games of action. The Wild used three different goaltenders in the season series – Andrew Hammond (3-0), C.J. Motte (0-0-1) and Kaapo Kahkonen (1-2-1).
Chicago had three players at almost a point per game. T.J. Tynan (8 games), Daniel Carr (6 games) and Brandon Pirri (3 games) all had seven points. While Pirri is not eligible to play for the Wolves in the playoffs, Tynan will definitely suit up and it’s rumored Carr may make his long-awaited return after missing the past two months with an upper body injury.
Cal O’Reilly was Iowa’s only player who clicked at a similar pace with seven points in seven games played. Both teams combined for 21 goals in the season series, with Chicago having 11 different goal scorers and Iowa having 13. On paper, these teams are almost identical with one major exception.
Chicago’s special teams significantly outshined that of Iowa in the season series. The Wolves were 9 for 34 on the power play (26.5%) and 23 for 27 on the kill (85.2%). Meanwhile, the Wild were 4 for 27 on the power play (14.8%) and 25 for 34 on the kill (73.5%).
In the postseason, special teams success is almost always the difference-maker in a series. Iowa has scored at least one power-play goal in at least every game in the postseason thus far, win or loss, and has only allowed one in five games played. For Chicago, the power play scored at least one goal in each of its three wins, and it was perfect on the kill in those games.
Chicago’s Keys to Success:
Chicago’s most successful games came when its time in the penalty box was limited. Game one saw 144 combined penalty minutes between the Griffins and Wolves, and was its worst game of the series by far. Grand Rapids succeed again in frustrating Chicago in game three en route to the win, and Chicago returned the favor in game five. Of course, the loss of Dylan Coghlan in the penultimate game of the regular season hurt the power play’s success, and it took a few games for everyone to be able to gel well.
Another key is continued depth scoring. Chicago’s leading scorer in the postseason, Tye McGinn (3 goals, 3 assists) had just one assist in five games against Iowa in the regular season. Keegan Kolesar, the team’s leading goal scorer, recorded just two assists in seven games played. In order to compete with a team as deep as the Wild, Chicago will need to continue receiving balanced scoring contributions from the entirety of its line up.
Dansk, the likely game one starter for Rocky Thompson, has a 2.68 goals against average and .914 save percentage thus far in the playoffs, which includes the 5-1 game one loss. Against the Wild in the regular season, Dansk had a 1.56 GAA and .941 SV%, and he will need to continue to excel in net for the Wolves to have the edge as this series could very well turn into a goaltending battle.
Chicago’s defense will also need to limit what can be an electric offense for Iowa; the Wild scored 13 combined goals in their first two games of the opening round. Most importantly, defenseman Zach Whitecloud will need to step up his play as he’s currently the only player below -3 in the postseason with a -7 plus/minus. His partner, Nic Hague, is comparatively only -3.
What could be the difference-maker for the Wolves is the rumored return of two key players. Carr and Brooks Macek, who at different times this season led the AHL in scoring, are possible to return at some point in the second round, if not for the first game of the series. They would add an entire scoring threat to the Wolves, who played their final two games of round one without what had been their top line all season (Gage Quinney left game four early with an injury). Combined, they had 14 points in the season series against the Wild. Though the Wolves have thrived off of a next-man up mentality for the past two months, the return of this top line, assuming with a vengeance after missing so much time, could make them a heavy Cup-favorite.
Iowa’s Keys to Success:
Iowa needs to continue with the special teams success of round one. In every single game, the power play recorded at least one goal, and the penalty kill allowed just one goal on 28 chances. This success will be imperative against a Wolves team which has thrived on its ability to both convert and kill with confidence in many of its recent wins, especially if they get half of their #1 power-play unit back for the second round.
The Wild have four players with at least one point per game in the playoffs, led by O’Reilly (3G, 3A, 6 Pts), followed by Gerald Mayhew (4G, 1A, 5 Pts), Luke Kunin (3G, 2A, 5 Pts) and Matt Read (2G, 3A, 5 Pts). Aside from O’Reilly, this is very different than the regular season series against the Wolves, as they recorded 3 points (1G, 2A, 8 games played), 2 points (1G, 1G, 4 GP) and 3 points (2G, 1A, 8 GP), respectively.
The Wild also have just two players with a negative plus/minus thus far in the postseason, and both sit at -1, compared to Chicago’s pendulum of play. Of course, scoring 13 combined goals in the first two games, and just two of that on the man advantage, factors a lot into this, but Iowa will need to be able to shut down all of Chicago’s lines, as each has offensive weapons who can easily turn a game on its head.
Hammond, who was undefeated in his three games played against Chicago in the regular season, is the assumed starter for game one since he’s played all five thus far in the postseason for Iowa. His 1.60 GAA and .941 SV% is comparable to his round one performance of a 1.94 GAA and .930 SV%, and he’ll need to continue to be sharp against a quick and snappy Wolves team.
Expect Ryan Donato, who had four assists in the opening round, to begin to find his playoff groove and be a larger weapon for the Wild. With the Providence Bruins and Minnesota Wild this season, Donato was almost a point-per-game player, and the Hobey Baker Finalist could excel the most for Iowa in the fast-paced game favored by both teams.
In short, Iowa will have to match the depth of Chicago especially should it get its top line back for playoffs if the Wild look to continue their history-making playoff run.
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