ROSEMONT, Ill – After allowing the Iowa Wild to tie the series at two games in Des Moines, the Wolves bounced back with a huge game five win to make Monday’s home match up an elimination game. Win, and the Wolves would make their first conference final appearance since their last Calder Cup win in 2008.
The Iowa Wild entered game six hot and looking ready to force a game seven. They registered the game’s first flurry of shots on goal, but Oscar Dansk was more than up to the task. The teams traded successful penalty kills in a seemingly evenly-matched game, but it was only time until one found momentum in its favor.
That team would be the Wolves, who came alive on their power-play opportunity. Though they generated three scoreless chances, it appeared the home team was just a beat from solving netminder Andrew Hammond. The first period would end scoreless, with each team having registered 10 shots on goal.
Credit Dansk to snagging the momentum for his team to open the second when he stoned Kyle Rau on a 2-on-1 shorthanded attempt. Curtis McKenzie took the play the other way, and put the puck top shelf to make it 1-0 in favor of the home team on the power play. This was McKenzie’s fifth goal in three games.
Speaking of power plays, it was Hunter Warner who added his name to the short list of Wild players who recorded a goal in the series when he tied the game at 13:22 of the second.
It appeared the Wild had all the momentum, and they were gift-wrapped the chance to take the lead in the game when Kevin Lough went off for high-sticking. Gage Quinney and Daniel Carr thought otherwise, demonstrating their frustration at having to sit injured in the playoffs. Quinney dished it to Carr, who put the puck through the smallest of openings between the legs of Hammond to regain the lead for the home team shorthanded.
If the shorthanded goal put a damper on the Wild’s passion, Cody Glass‘s goal just 25 seconds later marked the final nail in the coffin of the Wild’s postseason hopes. The Wolves out-shot the Wild 14-7 in the middle frame and had the 3-1 lead entering the final 30.
This score would hold as the Wild were unable to convert even with Hammond leaving for the extra attacker with 2:30 left in regulation. After Glass’s goal, they were a deflated team which had already counted itself out.
Chicago was clearly the deeper and more cohesive team throughout the majority of the series, and the returns of Quinney, Carr and Brooks Macek from injury clearly played an important role as all three contributed consistently both on and off the scoresheet. Each player voiced his frustration at not being able to play, or having to sit out games of a series, and came back with a vengeance to help the Wolves move on.
When the Wolves needed their depth to step up, they did and big time, with McKenzie playing out of his mind offensively to help close out the series.
With the win, the Chicago Wolves advance to the Western Conference Finals, where they will face the San Diego Gulls. This is Chicago’s first Conference Finals appearance in over 10 seasons, its last trip coming with the last Calder Cup title it won back in 2008.
Game one will be Friday night at Allstate, and the series will have a 2-3-2 format with the Wolves having home ice advantage. Neither team will have much rest as both eliminated their opponents on Monday, whereas the two Eastern Conference teams – the Toronto Marlies and Charlotte Checkers – swept their opponents and have had a week off to get healthy and ready to go for a continued run. Depending on the length of each series, this extra rest could very well be a difference-maker in the long run as both the Wolves and Gulls have experienced heavy-hitting periods of play, and in the Gulls’ case, a significant number of overtime periods.