ROSEMONT, ILL – Entering game one against the Rockford IceHogs Saturday night at the Allstate Arena, Rocky Thompson’s club knew it needed to do one thing – not get suckered into playing Rockford’s hard-hitting style which tends to goad Chicago into taking untimely penalties.
Rocky had this to say Friday morning,
“It’s been pretty even this year when we looked at the penalties for and against, it’s 50 apiece, and it’s because the rivalry is so intense. I think we’ve done a really good job this year of controlling our emotion and playing with the high level of intensity without crossing the line. I anticipate our guys are going to keep their emotions in check , but play a high energy, high intensity hockey game.”
Unfortunately, his team did just that, and it spelled trouble from early on.
At 9:32 of the third period, Brett Sterling would get provoked into taking the game’s first penalty – a rough – which left his team shorthanded. The same Sterling who had this to say entering the playoffs –
“We have to realize it’s the playoffs and, for a guy like myself and other guys on this team, we have to realize there’s a time and a place. You sacrifice, you make that, you take that punch to the head, you take that cross-check to the back knowing that power play and score, that could be the chance that sends you on to the next round or sends you home.”
Tyler Sikura, who has been a thorn in the Wolves’ side all season, gave the visitors a 1-0 lead just ten seconds into the penalty to Sterling. However, it was actually Wolves goaltender Oscar Dansk who knocked the puck in with his elbow when he reached back to snag his own rebound.
Though the Wolves would end the first period with a 16-13 shots on goal lead bolstered by their early jump at the opening puck drop, IceHogs goaltender Collin Delia kept the visitors off the board and the IceHogs took a 1-0 lead entering first intermission.
With as bad as the latter half of the opening frame was for the Wolves, the entire second period was worse with Chicago who did not register a shot until past the 11 minute mark, including being held without a shot on a power play.
All it took was 51 seconds into the second period for the Wolves to take another costly penalty. This time, it was Beau Bennett in the box.
With just over a minute gone in the penalty to Bennett, T.J. Tynan hesitated to pick up his man at the point and Adam Clendening fired from the blue line to put the home team up 2-0 at 2:05 of the second. Dansk did not stand a chance of stopping this one as it deflected off a Wolves body in front of him.
Though the Wolves would get a few chances on the power play in the second, they were unable to convert and entered the third stanza down 2-0.
With how key Rockford’s power play had been for its success so far in the game, it was only fitting that Chicago’s would do the same in the team’s comeback bid.
31 seconds into the second of Andreas Martinsen’s penalty hat trick, both Tynan and Teemu Pulkkinen would fight to redirect Zac Leslie’s shot from the point past Delia, with Pulkkinen finally spoiling the goaltender’s shutout bid.
Though Chicago had a fighting chance to tie the game thanks to a chance on the power play followed by pulling Dansk for the extra attacker, Rockford made the home team fight tooth and nail for every inch of space in the final few minutes, a fight the visitors handily won, and had been winning all game.
With a final score of 2-1, Dansk (27 saves) and the Wolves head to Rockford Sunday down 1-0 in the best-of-five series.
Perhaps no one summed up the Wolves’ game play better than head coach Rocky Thompson after the game.
“I’d like to talk about positives, but I don’t think we have a lot to talk about in a positive direction. I was – I thought we had a good start to the game. We were outshooting them 7-2 at one point. We were undisciplined. I didn’t like our penalty kill early in the game. We had opportunities to clear pucks and failed on those attempts and that always comes back to bite you, for sure. I really felt that they drove possession from that point on. For the rest of the game, really. Our power play had some moments in the second period, and then obviously in the third period where we scored, but I don’t see a lot of positives in our game tonight. I really think we played poorly tonight and I think we got outplayed tonight.”
To tie the game at one apiece, the Wolves need to get out to the same start they did Saturday night, but make sure to continue to play their own game style instead of trying to beat the IceHogs at their own game. Time and time again, the Wolves have tried and failed to do this, and have only found success against the IceHogs when they are the ones dictating the pace of the game.
A pivotal game two is set for a puck drop just after 4 p.m. in Rockford. As always, be sure to follow @SinBinWolves on Twitter for current news and game updates as the Wolves push for the Calder Cup.