ROSEMONT, ILL – The Chicago Wolves needed everything they had Thursday night at the Allstate Arena as they looked to push their opening round match up against the Rockford IceHogs to at least a game four. It took all of that, and then some, as the game extended to almost three full overtime periods before a winner was crowned.
This match blew away the Wolves’ record for longest game ever, lasting 22 minutes longer than the previous record, and good enough for eighth-longest in American Hockey League history. It also saw a new record set for most combined shots on goal by Wolves team and its opponent, and most saves ever in a single match by a Wolves goaltender.
The home team opened the game’s scoring halfway through the first when Philip Holm fired a rocket past goaltender Collin Delia. Delia did not stand a chance on the shot from the point with Tomas Hyka in front screening and the Wolves found themselves with the lead for only the second time in the series.
At the end of the first, it would be the home team leading entering the intermission period for the first time all series, which was extremely promising.
Chicago would go up 2-0 a full period after Holm’s opening goal, and this time it was Griffin Reinhart who found Keegan Kolesar open right in front of Delia. It should have been an easy save for the IceHogs netminder, but Kolesar put it right between his legs for Chicago’s first-ever two-goal lead.
However, the Rockford IceHogs power play, which has been a thorn in the Wolves’ side all series, would make them play just two minutes later. Chicago found itself getting trapped low on the kill, and Rockford teed up shot after shot during the penalty to Holm before Cody Franson finally beat Max Lagace up high on a perfectly executed tic-tac-toe. Lagace did not stand a chance of stopping that one; he had already made countless saves on the kill prior to Franson’s shot.
Chris DiDomenico, a player with extreme success against the Wolves this season, tied it up for the visitors at just 13:00 of the second when he became the IceHogs’ first multigoal-scorer in the postseason. Victor Edjsell scored Rockford’s third unanswered goal just 54 seconds later to make it 3-2 in favor of the Blackhawks’ affiliate, and Rocky Thompson used his time out hoping to calm his team down.
After two periods, it was 3-2 on the scoreboard with shots on goal 31-13, both favoring Rockford.
Just 3:11 into the third, Wade Megan tied the game as he stuffed a wraparound into the net. Chicago had a chance to get ahead on a late power play, but the two teams would head to overtime locked at three, Chicago with 25 shots and Rockford with 42. If not for stellar play by Lagace, the game would have ended in the second for Chicago.
Entering Thursday, the Wolves had yet to win any game this season against the IceHogs which necessitated extra time, but it appeared they had done the impossible early into the fourth frame when Megan beat Delia. The crowd erupted into cheers, but the refs had blown the whistle a second beforehand on a penalty call though no IceHogs player had possession. Rocky’s team was determined to not let this poor turn of events ruin its comeback bid, however.
Stellar goaltending on both ends of the ice in the first overtime, Delia with 16 saves and Lagace with 9, meant this game would need more than eighty minutes.
After a successful penalty kill by the Wolves, the back-and-forth game ticked past Chicago’s record for longest game, and Lagace made his 59th save of the night. But, the second overtime was not enough for either team to best the other, no matter how out of gas all of the players on the ice appeared to be.
With the 7 p.m. puck drop game slowly approaching midnight, the puck dropped on the third overtime period between these two teams. At this point, it was safe to say that win or lose, Rocky’s team had forced a game four.
The Vegas Golden Knights game, which had begun a full two hours after this game, had by now ended.
The third overtime period saw the two teams crush what had previously been the franchise record for most combined shots in a game with 113, and how anyone had anything left to give at this point was beyond comprehension. No matter how well-conditioned you are, there were defensemen, and most likely some forwards, who had well surpassed 50 minutes of ice time at this point in the game.
Chicago’s fatal flaw all series, untimely penalties, would fittingly put the final nail in its Calder Cup Playoff dream coffin. Stefan Matteau would go off for high-sticking, and from the immediate set up by the IceHogs’ power play, it became clear they would walk away with the extra goal at any second.
It was Edjsell who would do just that, firing from the faceoff dot to the left of Lagace to win it for the IceHogs at 17:22 of the third overtime period.
Lagace and the Wolves were absolutely upset, but just as you would expect any team coached by Rocky Thompson, they courteously shook the IceHogs’ hands and wished them well, and stayed to salute the fans who had stuck around for this nailbiter of a game.
Lagace played absolutely out of his mind during that game, setting the record for most saves ever by a Wolves goaltender with 71 in the loss. Delia turned aside 52 comparatively, the 19-shot difference being what some goaltenders turn aside in a game alone.
And just like that, the American Hockey League’s eighth-ever longest game ended with the two teams having combined for 131 shots on goal in almost six full periods of play.
While Chicago’s miraculous Cinderella season is now over, the development of young players throughout this year, as well as their ability to step up when it counted should be something Wolves fans find solace in.
Meanwhile, Rockford advances to face the winner of the Manitoba Moose/Grand Rapids Griffins series.
While the Wolves’ season may be over, @SinBinWolves has some great offseason content planned, with a season recap coming soon.