DES MOINES, Iowa – After the Chicago Wolves won the first two games with seeming ease, Andrew Hammond has found his groove in net for the Iowa Wild. While Chicago was the better team in game three, his 26-save game three shutout began closing the series gap for Iowa. Entering game four, the series lead was now just 2-1.

Yet again, Hammond would steal a game for the home team, this time making 33 saves on 34 shots on the game’s better team.

Iowa got off to a strong start in game four, and Oscar Dansk was forced to make numerous saves early on. He could only do so much, and yet again, Gerry Mayhew scored for the Wild. This goal came at 13:01 of the opening frame, and was Mayhew’s fifth goal in four games this series.

Entering the first intermission, the Wolves found themselves chasing a 1-0 deficit. While originally being outshot 10-5, they rattled off four consecutive shots to make it just 10-9 in favor of the Wild. Hope and life had creeped back into a team down after allowing the first goal.

The middle frame would belong to Chicago – and Hammond – as the Wolves had two power-play chances and outshot the home team an astounding 13-3. The home penalty kill put on a performance, forcing the Wolves to continue making perimeter passes instead of the dangerous ones through the slot the power play seems to thrive on.

Iowa would not allow any goals on either of the kills, and the visitors’ best chance of the middle frame came early on in the frame when Cody Glass and his line crashed the net trying to poke the puck loose from a strong Hammond.

Between the two power-play chances for the Wolves, the Charlotte Checkers became the second team to advance to its respective conference final series with a 5-2 victory, and 4-0 series sweep, over the Hershey Bears.

Clearly upset to have been left off the scoresheet in game three, Mayhew made up for it by scoring his second of the night at 5:25 of the third period just when it seemed like the Wolves’ momentum would result in success in the final frame.

Curtis McKenzie, a player the Wolves have been needing to produce more in the postseason, finally got his first of the playoffs at 9:11 of the third and ended Hammond’s shutout streak at 143:42. McKenzie had come so close the previous eight games for Chicago, and he was finally able to fire one home to halve the Wild lead.

Tomas Hyka would have a great chance to tie things for the visitors, but of course, Hammond was able to make a save on the great effort. Shortly after, Luke Kunin looked to keep up his own scoring success but was also stoned by the opposing netminder.

Minutes would continue to tick off and Rocky Thompson pulled Dansk with 1:55 for the extra attacker, but the Wild buttoned down the hatches and Hammond stole his second game of the series.

The final score read 2-1 in favor of the Wild, but Chicago outshot Iowa an astounding 34-22. It’s not that Oscar played poorly, but rather that Hammond stole yet another game for his team to even the series at two games apiece.

Game five is Friday night in Des Moines set for a 7 p.m. puck drop.

I’m sure this is plain to see, but there’s three things the Wolves need to do to close this series out.

First and foremost, they need to find a way to convert on the power play. Iowa’s been able to shut the Chicago special teams down by forcing it to make perimeter passes, which are significantly lower risk than the quick cross-ice snapping plays Rocky’s team likes to make. While passing on the perimeter can be useful to create openings, it has not been effective against the strong zone defensive play of the Wild. More player movement on the power play should hopefully create the openings favored by Wolves players when they’ve been their most effective.

Two, they need to find a way to stop both Mayhew and Kunin. In game three, they held Mayhew without a point but Kunin was able to score the game’s only goal. Chicago’s effectively shut down a significant majority of Iowa’s other scorers, but for some reason these two continue to get the best of Chicago consistently. Maybe putting Max Lagace in net would aid in this success, as these two players seem to have solved Dansk a long time ago. Lagace also had much more success in the regular season against the Iowa Wild. If Oscar had not been on a hot streak to end the first round, I would have started Max in net for this series due to the striking difference in success each netminder had in the regular season series.

Lastly, the Wolves need to challenge Hammond. 32 saves is easy if they’re all from the point or easy shots from right in front with no one to screen. While the Wolves have their elite scorers returned in Brooks Macek and Daniel Carr, neither recorded a point in the two losses. Gage Quinney also returned to their center, replacing Matthew Weis who played two of his best games this season in the first two games of this series. Is putting Weis back on this line, and moving Quinney onto a line with Hyka and McKenzie the answer? I’m not sure, but if it wasn’t broke in the first two games, maybe the Macek-Weis-Carr line is worth another look.

Since the series shifted to Iowa, the Wild have had success in shutting the Wolves down from high danger areas. Tye McGinn had success by crashing the front of the net, and the Macek and Carr duo are strong off transitions and break ins. As Rocky loves to say, the Wolves need to take a breather and get back to playing their own game.

They were able to solve Hammond in games one and two, and in theory it’s only a matter of time before this success returns.

Expect some lineup changes and shifts for the Wolves entering Friday’s pivotal game five.

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