ROSEMONT, Ill. –
“I’m disappointed that we didn’t push back… When there’s no pushback, you don’t have net presence, you don’t have forechecks, you’re not hitting, you’re going back and you’re defending longer than you should. I think it’s all a result because we were getting outworked by the end of it. Outworked and outcompeted, outbattled in the last 30 minutes and they were able to win a game and really embarrassed us in the process.”
With these words Chicago Wolves head coach Rocky Thompson perfectly summarized how game one went for his team, as the Grand Rapids Griffins scored five unanswered goals to take the 5-1 victory and 1-0 advantage in this best-of-five series.
Tye McGinn, who has been on a hot streak for the Wolves, opened the series scoring at 8:28 of the first period when he took the bouncing puck from a faceoff win by Cody Glass and easily put it past Griffins goaltender Harri Sateri for the 1-0 lead. It was a great start for Chicago who continued to receive the depth scoring which has marked its play the past month and a half.
With 3:21 left in the first, the Wolves had a 10-5 shot on goal advantage and appeared to be passionately firing on all cylinders with the 1-0 lead. However, Sateri made impressive save after save to keep his team within one.
Then, Colin Campbell tied the game with 41.1 seconds left in the period and the teams would head to the locker room knotted at one.
At 10:01 of the second, the wheels began to fall off for Rocky’s team. Matt Puempel, who had six points (5 goals, 1 assist) in the regular season series, scored on the power play to make it 2-1 in favor of the visiting team on a rebound off the back boards.
What had been a dominant opening 20 minutes for Chicago became a frustrating final 30, as passes failed to connect, shots were missed and just about everything the Wolves had done so well in the regular season series disappeared from their game.
Tomas Hyka had a chance to bring his team within one on its third power-play chance of the game, but his shot trickled through Sateri’s legs and out of danger.
Nic Hague and Zach Whitecloud, the number one pairing for Chicago through much of the season, both became turned around in the defensive zone and left Dominic Turgeon wide open. It was an easy shot up and over Oscar Dansk to put Grand Rapids ahead 3-1 with 6:50 left in regulation.
Rocky pulled Dansk for the extra attacker, but this backfired when Tanner Elson stripped the puck from Whitecloud for the empty net goal. Hague’s misplay just 33 seconds later resulted in a Dominic Shine goal and a 5-1 hole.
In real time, these goals were about five minutes apart as a line brawl broke out after Elson’s goal. Both Alex Gallant and Wade Megan were escorted to their respective locker rooms and assessed a two minute roughing minor and a 10 minute misconduct each for continuing altercation.
The frustration felt by Wolves players was perhaps none as apparent as when Hague cross-checked Shine immediately following his goal, triggering the game’s final fight.
Rocky’s team left the ice dejected and embarrassed, and fans were left wondering if this is going to be another first round sweep after such a promising regular season. The Wolves of the final 30 minutes were not the team anyone expected, or hoped, to see on the ice.
“We’re going to play our own game. If we play our own game like we did in the first [period], we’re going to be fine. We got away from that [and] it cost us. No secret to our game, that’s for sure,” said Rocky Thompson when asked what changes he is going to make after game one.
Saturday’s game is going to be the most important one of the series. Either Grand Rapids steals two on the road and needs just one at home to win (and potentially sweep) Chicago, or the Wolves will have a 1-1 tie.
The Chicago Wolves know exactly what they need to do to turn this best-of-five into a best-of-three. They know how to bounce back, how to score, how to shut down the neutral zone. Chicago dominated the majority of the season series, but stepped away from that formula of success. Deviating from this road map cost them the game, though there is still more than enough time to right the ship.
Everyone on the Wolves roster needs to do better and play a full 60 minutes. The power play needs to execute better, the penalty kill needs to button things down. Players need to step up as they have all season to overcome this hurdle and be all the better for it.
The Wolves need to feel the full weight of this loss and use it as fuel moving forward in the Calder Cup Playoffs, just as the Griffins used their nine-game losing streak as fuel entering game one.
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