ROSEMONT, Ill – Saturday was game five of the 2019 Calder Cup Finals, and meant two very different things to each team. For the Charlotte Checkers, game five was a chance to clinch their first-ever Calder Cup, while for the Chicago Wolves, a win meant they lived to play another day.
As they have done all playoffs, and especially this series, the Checkers proved from the opening puck drop just why they have been the #1 team in the AHL from start to finish.
At just 1:31 of the opening frame, Andrew Potularski put the visiting team on the scoreboard when he took advantage of a quick transition off a turnover to score on Oscar Dansk.
Tyler Wong had the best chance for the Wolves in the first period when his shot on goal off the break in beat netminder Alex Nedeljkovic but drew iron to the disappointment of the home crowd. In fact, the line of Wong, Matthew Weis and Alex Gallant was perhaps the most consistently visible for Rocky Thompson throughout the entirety of the game. While this may have not reflected on the scoresheet, they sustained the most pressure in the offensive zone out of any of the Wolves’ lines.
After allowing 10 shots on goal in the first half of period one, the Wolves held the Checkers without a shot for 8:44 seconds.
As the horn sounded, the Checkers had a 1-0 lead where it counted and a 13-6 shots on goal lead. Charlotte held Chicago off the leaderboard largely due to fantastic backchecking, as the Checkers successfully kept the Wolves from setting up sustained chances in the opening frame.
Bad luck hit the Wolves at 8:25 of the second period when Zach Whitecloud went to clear a pass from the slot and tossed it directly to the blade of Morgan Geekie who was able to bury it point blank in front of Dansk to double the Checkers’ lead.
Chicago fell further into a SOG hole as the second wore on, but was able to close the period with a couple of solid plays to even the shots at 10 apiece for this frame.
With just 25.4 seconds left in the second, Brooks Macek was able to spoil the shutout bid from a solid-looking Nedeljkovic when he tipped the shot from Tomas Hyka past the netminder to make it was 2-1 entering the final 20 of regulation.
Through the regular season and playoffs, the Charlotte Checkers owned a 48-0-0-0 record when leading after two periods, and they put this undefeated record to the test in game five.
As the third wore on, Chicago began chipping into the Charlotte SOG differential and it appeared to be almost a matter of time until the home team knotted the game at two. However, it was Trevor Carrick who would get the game’s next goal when he took a shot off the faceoff and beat Dansk cleanly to make it 3-1 in favor of the visiting team.
The hole Chicago needed to climb out of just doubled.
When 3:16 on the clock in regulation, Rocky pulled Dansk for the extra attacker with almost immediate success. Gage Quinney popped the rebound into the back of the net just 10 seconds after, and it was 3-2 Charlotte with 3:06 remaining.
With 1:47 left, Poturalski regained the two-goal lead for the visitors with his second of the game, this one a laser into the empty net.
Just as the game, and series, appeared all but over, Cody Glass lit the lamp with 38.1 seconds left to bring the home team back within one.
If there were any question up until this point, Charlotte shut Chicago down for the remaining time. Zach Nastasiuk’s second of the playoffs, and Charlotte’s second empty-net goal of the game, came at 19:44 and that was all she would write on the 2019 Calder Cup Playoffs.
The Charlotte Checkers would take game five by a score of 5-3, and would win the Calder Cup Finals over the Chicago Wolves by a series score of four games to one, including taking three-straight in Chicago.
For the first time in nine seasons in the American Hockey League, the Charlotte Checkers won the Calder Cup. This came on the heels of being the best team in the regular season, and they would finish an astounding 49-0-0-0 when leading after two periods in both the regular season and playoffs.
With 23 points (12 goals, 11 assists) in 18 Calder Cup Playoffs games, Poturalski was named the winner of the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy as the AHL’s playoff Most Valuable Player.
The Chicago Wolves, the AHL’s best team in the Western Conference, was able to take just one game of the Calder Cup Finals, but this was a vast improvement over being swept in the first round a year prior.
With the biggest smile I’ve ever seen on a coach after a loss, Rocky Thompson said postgame,
“I still really liked the way we played our games. I thought we gave ourselves chances in every single game that we played, and tonight was no different… What I’m proud of most though is I thought our team played the best that we possibly could have. I really do… We really played the best that we could’ve played to give ourselves a chance with everything that we had. At the end of the day, when you do that – and that’s what I said to our players – I said, ‘You shouldn’t be sad. I know it’s tough when you don’t win championships, but you shouldn’t be sad when that’s all you have.’ Like, you did everything you could. I’m proud of that. I’m really proud of that for them, because that’s rare… I think our team epitomizes that the team was greater than the sum of its parts… I’m really proud of this group and what they did.”
Rocky identified game four as the turning point of this series.
“I thought we should’ve won game four without a doubt. I’m not going to go into the reasons why we didn’t win, and most of those reasons were out of our control, that’s the situation. The pendulum certainly could’ve swung in our favor at that moment with game five being tonight 2-2.”
Glass was one of Chicago’s top playoff performers, with 15 points (7G, 8A) in 22 games, including the late goal Saturday to give the Wolves some hope. Rocky had high praise for Glass postgame, and all of the young players on the Chicago roster.
“He’s been stepping up all playoffs,” said Rocky. “He’s been getting better and this is a grind. You come out and you think of his year in junior, they play a lot of games, 72 games and you add playoffs and then you add the World Juniors that he had to go to and then he plays here. He must be close to 100 games [Editor’s note: this was Glass’ 72nd game due to two injuries during his junior season], I don’t know. Again, guys like Zach Whitecloud coming out of college where they’ve only played maybe 30 games a season, I think he played his 98th game tonight. This is impressive that these guys were able to do what they could do and really grow. Grow as a team first and most importantly, but grow as individuals, as people I think, and obviously, as players as well.”
The de facto team leader, T.J. Tynan, was proud of how his young team stepped up its play, especially with all the injuries the lineup has sustained, but still noted his disappointment in how the season ended for the Wolves.
“It was a tough one. That’s going to be a tough pill to swallow for sure. I don’t think the series wins indicated how we played really, but all the credit in the world to them. They played great hockey, so congratulations to them, but for us, it was a special group. I told those guys in there that it was a lot of fun. I just tried to thank everyone for working their bag off. I’m really proud of everyone in there.”
In the visitors locker room, champagne, beer and happy tears flowed freely beginning with the final buzzer. The Charlotte Checkers had taken three-straight games away to clinch the Calder Cup.
“We had no intention of going back home and going to practice on Monday or Tuesday, whatever it would have been,” said Nedeljkovic. “We did not want to go back. We took it game by game. You couldn’t win tonight without that first game on Wednesday. Every game was like our last.”
Charlotte needed just 19 total playoff games to hit the 15 wins needed to hoist the league’s trophy.
Charlotte Checkers clinch the Calder Cup by a score of 5-3 in game four. pic.twitter.com/9KZXkAS4UQ
— Sin Bin Wolves (@SinBinWolves) June 9, 2019
Editor’s Note: the above tweet should say game five to take the series in four games.
The Checkers were bolstered on May 16th and 17th after the parent Carolina Hurricanes were eliminated from playoff contention in the NHL. Patrick Brown, Haydn Fleury and Jake Bean joined the Checkers, and each contributed both on and off the scoresheet in a big way en route to the Calder Cup. Brown recorded 10 points (5G, 5A) in 11 playoff games, Fleury had 6 points (2G, 4A) in 11 games and Bean added 5 points (1G, 4A) in 15.
“Everybody wants to win. Especially those guys up there,” explained Ned. “Beaner, Fleury, Brownie, they were up there quite awhile. It’s tough losing. You never want to lose the last game of the year and I can’t say enough about Brownie coming down. Brownie’s been our leader the last three years and maybe even the year before that. He’s been the guy. He always has a positive attitude. He’s always come ready to work and you want to play for him. You want to win for a guy like that, and Fleury and Beaner, they’re just two solid guys on the back end that really boosted us. We would’ve been I think something special if we would’ve had them all year, but getting those guys really gave us an extra lift over everybody else I think.”
Playoff MVP, Poturalski, was nothing but smiles postgame.
“It’s been unbelievable,” he said. “I’m just glad we got the win. Being here three years and building this culture that’s we’ve had, we expect to win and we went out and did it. I couldn’t be more proud of the guys in the room.
With 18 points (8G, 10A), Geekie finished the playoffs as the rookie playoff scoring leader and just four points behind Poturalski for the overall points lead.
If you take a look at this Checkers’ roster, and really both teams, you’ll see many players who are sure to be NHL fixtures in the future, and this series really exemplified the stellar talent both the Hurricanes and Golden Knights have in each of their respective pipelines.
Playoff Injury Updates
Rocky Thompson noted after the game that Daniel Carr’s injury was not season-ending and he likely would have played in Charlotte had the team forced a game six.
He also mentioned that Stefan Matteau suffered a lacerated kidney halfway through game four and played the remaining 35 minutes of the game before spending the next two days in the hospital.
Tobias Lindberg was seen leaving Allstate Arena with his foot in an aircast.
Rocky stated postgame that none of the defensemen were fully healthy, and noted that Griffin Reinhart and Jake Bischoff especially were hurting.
Poturalski stated in his postgame interview that he was playing on a broken foot, and had a few other injuries as well.
Thank you for following along with me all year @SinBinWolves on Twitter. Stay tuned – I’ve got exciting things in the works for this offseason.