ROSEMONT, Ill – In the playoffs, each game is the chance to be a different team than you were the game prior. Entering Saturday’s game two against the Grand Rapids Griffins, the Chicago Wolves needed to be anything but the team they were the night before.
Whatever was said in the locker room Friday night clearly worked as the Wolves came out firing on all cylinders. Their forechecking was tough, their backchecking left players on the ice and their shots hit true. Chicago took two early penalties as a byproduct of the electricity it opened the game with, but the kills came just as easily for them as the rest of the period had.
Though the scoreboard showed a 0-0 tie after the first, and the home team with just an 11-10 shot on goal advantage, if it had not been for Griffins goaltender Harri Sateri, Rocky’s team would have been on top 3-0 after 20 minutes.
This time, they would not let the Griffins frustrate them. Tomas Hyka opened the game’s scoring at 7:38 of the second on a wrister from a beautiful Tye McGinn pass.
It was deja vu as Colin Campbell tied the game less than a minute later when he beat Max Lagace on a 2-on-1 rush. The netminder did not stand a chance as Campell and Christoffer Ehn had all the time in the world to pass before a shot was taken.
Chicago’s power play found another gear Saturday night, and third time would prove the charm when Zach Whitecloud recorded his first goal of the playoffs at 12:58 of the second period. Curtis McKenzie recorded the primary assist, and Cody Glass‘s point steak continued with the secondary apple.
While Whitecloud’s goal was important as it showed the power play could convert, it was much more significant than just that. Whitecloud’s goal was a moral victory for the Wolves, and it seemed to kick them into another gear. Whereas they had started the game with a chip on their shoulder, they now seemed comfortable dictating the pace of the game.
This was exemplified when Zac Leslie, who would finish the game with a plethora of chances, fired a shot on net off the faceoff and Keegan Kolesar finished the rebound to make it 3-1 Chicago.
— Sin Bin Wolves (@SinBinWolves) April 21, 2019
Fired up, the Wolves killed yet another penalty to go four-for-four before the second ended, and it was 3-1 Chicago with a 24-18 shot on goal advantage.
Though the teams were much more evenly matched in the third, Chris Terry showed why it never hurts to throw the puck on net when his shot went off Lagace and into the net with 4:30 left in regulation to bring Grand Rapids within one.
Try as they would, even with Sateri pulled for the extra attacker, the Griffins could not tie the game.
Chicago would go on to win 3-2, and tie the series at one game apiece. What was previously a best-of-five is now a best-of-three.
Most importantly, Rocky Thompson won his first American Hockey League playoff game as a head coach, and the Wolves got their first postseason W with the Vegas affiliation.
Lagace was a godsend for the Wolves in net, steady, confident and unwavering. He sustained an injury late, late in the game yet stood tall until the final buzzer, and hopefully he is okay to go in net for game three. He made 26 saves for his first win of the postseason, and Sateri made 24 outstanding saves in the loss.
It’s not necessary to break down Chicago’s play point by point, because as a whole everything was better. The penalty kill was perfect, the power play was able to convert, shots were being blocked, hits were being made. With the exception of the final six minutes or so, the Wolves’ systems were flawless; everyone had their man covered at all times. This is the team which commanded the Central Division during the regular season, and is showing its postseason hunger.
Now, the series goes to Grand Rapids for a Tuesday game three and Wednesday game four. In all of Chicago’s recent victories against GR, they have had to dictate play from the opening puck drop otherwise they are unable to come back. In such a short series, any momentum advantage is imperative if you hope to move on, so game three has the potential to be just as pivotal as game two was.
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