ROSEMONT, ILL – The Chicago Wolves and Milwaukee Admirals played a very climactic first period, followed by two lackluster periods Tuesday night at the Allstate Arena. With a win in regulation, the Wolves would punch their ticket to the postseason.
The Chicago Wolves and Milwaukee Admirals combined for six goals on 27 shots… in the opening frame alone. However one would quantify a goaltending battle, the first period was the exact opposite of that.
Anthony Richard opened up the game’s scoring at just 1:50 of the first period when he threaded the needle himself by dangling around a Wolves defender and beat Oscar Dansk for his 18th goal of the season.
Almost halfway through the first, Beau Bennett found an open Teemu Pulkkinen at center ice and tossed the puck to him for the breakaway. While Pulkkinen usually shoots high on a breakaway, this time he chose to open up Anders Lindback’s five-hole for his 23rd goal of the season to tie the game at one.
Frederic Allard and the Milwaukee Admirals executed a perfect cycle in the Wolves zone which caused the Chicago defenders to collapse inwards. Griffin Reinhart, the odd defender out, left his man open and it was an easy goal for Allard.
Continuing his climb up the all-time AHL scoreboard, Brett Sterling tied the game for his team just 59 seconds later. Bennett had fought to regain the puck off his rebound, and he found Sterling wide open in front of Lindback for the tally.
Taking a page out of Sterling’s book, 57 seconds later Paul Thompson gained Chicago’s first lead of the game. Though he hit the crossbar on his initial shot a few seconds before, Thompson made sure to not miss the tip on Philip Holm’s point shot to make it 3-2 Chicago at just 12:41 of the first.
Before the period ended, Team USA Olympian Bobby Butler continued his AHL scoring-success when he grabbed a bouncing puck and threw it past Dansk, catching the netminder off guard and tying the game at three after the first. The Admirals would end the first with a 16-11 shots on goal advantage.
Though the Wolves would outshoot Milwaukee 11-4 in the second, neither team was able to solve the other, a huge departure from the first. Head coach Rocky Thompson made some adjustments to the lineup after the second, and he felt they had a positive impact.
“We thought our breakouts were really struggling in the first period and d zone coverage wasn’t good either. We thought that sometimes we could’ve just broke the puck out and not have to defend so much. So, when we did that and made those adjustments, it definitely helped out, but our forwards were much better. Just better sticks. We created more turnovers and we were able to transition.”
After trading chances in the third, the two teams needed extra time to decide the game. Pulkkinen had a breakaway chance to end the game for the Wolves in overtime, but he hit iron, much to the dismay of the home crowd.
Richard ended the five minute period with a breakaway of his own, but Dansk stoned him and Holm kept the rebound from resulting in a quality game-winning chance. Stefan Matteau ensured a shootout was needed when he blocked the shot off the faceoff with just over a second on the clock.
All it took was a Trevor Smith goal in the shootout to give the visitors the extra point and keep their slight playoffs hopes alive for another night. Lindback stopped all three shooters faced in the shootout, and he made 29 saves in the win.
Dansk made 30 saves for his second-consecutive shootout loss, and third in his last four starts.
To Paul Thompson, it is pretty clear why the Wolves have been unable to win in regulation recently.
“It’s that time of year. Everyone is fighting for their playoff lives. That’s a team that needs to win right now, so the games are going to be tight. It’s good to get used to playing in games like that. We need to work on our starts. They’ve been hurting us the last couple of games, so that’s where we should focus on. It was a good point tonight, obviously we like two, but I think it’s just the time of year. Every game is going to be close when teams are battling.”
Rocky Thompson seconded his captain’s words, saying,
“Every game is so important. We don’t have an “x” beside our name. We’re in a good position, but every game is going to be like this coming down the stretch, so we need our guys to get healthy and we have to take advantage of opportunity. We have to have a better start – it was a focus for the team tonight, and we didn’t have a good start again. That’s something we have to do is get off on the right foot and continue to play that way for 60 minutes. It’s going to be a tough game in Iowa without a doubt and we’ve got a quick turnaround afterwards playing Milwaukee back here.”
The Wolves fall to 38-21-7-4 on the season, and their magic number sits at two to sure up a playoff spot. If the Admirals lose at home Wednesday night, the Wolves become the first team in the Central Division to punch their ticket to the 2018 Calder Cup Playoffs.
Chicago next travels to Des Moines to face the Iowa Wild Friday at Wells Fargo Arena. Puck drop is scheduled for around 7 p.m. As always, be sure to follow @SinBinWolves on Twitter for current news and game updates.