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SAN DIEGO – The first two games of the Western Conference Final between the Chicago Wolves and San Diego Gulls in Rosemont have come and gone, which meant the series shifts to the West coast for the next three games. Entering game three, the series was knotted 1-1 with the Wolves taking the first and the Gulls the second.

Chicago was hoping its game three performance would be a lot less flat than it was in game two. Whereas game one was a volley back and forth with goals, game two belonged to San Diego and netminder Kevin Boyle who recorded a shutout in his first game back in net.

All signs pointed to a different Wolves team during the opening minute when Tye McGinn banged in a rebound at 1:35 of the first to give the visiting team the early lead. However, the San Diego Gulls regrouped and quickly shut down the Wolves for the remaining of the first, limiting them to just five shots on goal for the remaining of the frame.

They were also able to respond quickly on the scoresheet with Corey Tropp tying the game on a shot from the point. With about six bodies between him and the net, goaltender Oscar Dansk did not have time to see or react to the shot before the goal horn sounded.

Chicago was unable to capitalize on a 5-on-3 in the first, and only looked good during the opening and closing 95 seconds. The remaining time was all San Diego even when the Gulls were shorthanded, which would be indicative of what was to come.

Shorthanded chances allowed would indeed come to bite the Wolves when Sam Steel opened up Dansk for the shorthanded goal at 3:34 of the second to give the home team the 2-1 advantage.

A minute and a half later, Cody Glass was elbowed to the head by Andy Welinski, and the latter was assessed a match penalty for the check to the head.

It’s clear the principle point of contact was to the head, and the assessed match was indeed the correct call. Glass was lying on the ground before being attended to by Wolves athletic trainer Kevin Kacer, and a line brawl ensued. Luckily for the Wolves it appears there is no lingering harm to Glass who returned to the ice early in the third period.

Chicago’s penalty troubles continued as the Wolves were unable to convert on the resulting power play from this hit, and the Gulls penalty kill fueled the team even further.

About a minute after returning to even strength, the Gulls doubled their lead when Trevor Murphy‘s shot from the point found twine.

San Diego handily controlled the remainder of the middle frame and it would be 3-1 in favor of the home team entering the third.

Dansk was forced to stand on his head early and often to keep his team within two goals, and his team returned the favor by beginning to press.

Liking what he had seen out of his players, Rocky Thompson pulled Dansk for the extra attacker with about four minutes remaining. While Chicago’s biggest obstacle to success this game had been its desire to score clean, pretty goals, San Diego’s sticks prevented passes from reaching their intended target over and over again.

Finally, the Wolves would get a dirty one by taking advantage of the chaos in front of the net. It was Curtis McKenzie who was able to take advantage of Boyle’s commitment to the original save, popping the rebound into the now-open net to make it 3-2 with 3:30 to play.

Unfortunately for Chicago, San Diego’s skill playing down a man paid dividends and it was able to kill the remaining time with Oscar on the net for the sixth man. The final buzzer sounded, and it was a 3-2 win for the San Diego Gulls to take a 2-1 series lead.

The biggest difference-maker this game was special teams. Chicago was not only unable to capitalize on any of its man advantage chances, and allowed a shorthanded goal. The Wolves need to create more motion to force the Gulls out of position so they can make the “dirty” cross-slot passes they thrive upon for success. San Diego keeps pace when they try to cycle so Chicago certainly needs to switch things up.

With just a 2-1 deficit in a best-of-seven series, it’s still anyone’s game, but the Wolves need to take a deep breath and regroup entering game four Friday night at 9 p.m. CT which will be airing nationally on NHL Network.

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