DES MOINES, Iowa – After taking the first two matches at home, the Chicago Wolves suddenly found themselves tied 2-2 in the 2019 Central Division Finals against the Iowa Wild. Scoring just one goal in the previous 120 minutes of play, it was clear the Wolves’ big guns needed to come to play if they hoped to make game six at home an elimination game.
Right out of the gate, it was clear Chicago was out for blood after being outplayed by Iowa netminder Andrew Hammond the two previous games.
Unlike the first four games of the series, which were all one-goal margins, game five saw five different scorers for the Wolves and the team’s first hat trick of the postseason. It was as perfect of a playoff game as Chicago had played since joining with the Vegas Golden Knights in 2017.
Head coach Rocky Thompson juggled his lines entering game five and it paid dividends immediately. Tobias Lindberg, who replaced Ryan Wagner in the lineup, was instrumental in Chicago’s 1-0 lead at just 3:09 of the first period. Though he failed to record a point on the goal by Matthew Weis, he screened Hammond and the puck went past the netminder well before he had time to react.
On the opposing bench, the Wild finally got postseason contributions from someone they have been needing to step up. Ryan Donato tied the game at one with a little under five remaining in the first off a bad turnover in the neutral zone. Unfortunately for netminder Oscar Dansk, this goal came just the second shot on goal of the game for the Wild.
Stefan Matteau and the penalty killing team for the Wolves would step things up before the period ended after not allowing a shot on their first kill. This time, Matteau would record Chicago’s first postseason shorthanded goal when he went fivehole on Hammond and the Wolves took a 2-1 lead into the first intermission.
Continuing off the momentum of the penalty kill, the Chicago power play converted one of its own at 4:24 of the second period when Daniel Carr cleaned up the rebound on the Iowa doorstep for his first postseason goal with the Wolves.
46 seconds later, Curtis McKenzie recorded his first of three goals on the night off a 3-on-1 rush into the Wild zone. Tomas Hyka had gone down injured in front of Hammond, and this belated long change allowed for the Wolves to have numbers going the other way.
Finally, it seemed the Wolves were getting the depth scoring they’ve been lacking all round as four different scorers had converted through just 5:10 of the second period, and they had scored a goal in every situation – even strength, shorthanded and on a power play.
Just when things appeared bleak for the home team, Kyle Rau breathed life back into the Wild when he was left wide open on Dansk’s doorstep for a power-play goal to cut the deficit to 4-2 with four left in the second period.
McKenzie would score his second of the night on the power play with less than a minute left in the second, and the Wolves entered the final frame with a commanding 5-2 lead.
Matt Bartkowski brought his team within two yet again at just 1:52 of the third period unassisted, and these two teams would continue to jostle for position until Gage Quinney slammed the door shut on any comeback attempt by the Wild. His first of the postseason came halfway through the third on a tap in of a Carr rebound during 4-on-4 play and it was now 6-3 in favor of the visitors.
Hats were thrown towards TV sets in the Chicagoland area when McKenzie recorded the Wolves’ first hat trick of the postseason with 3:18 to go in regulation, further punctuating an already commanding victory. His third goal of the game, and fourth of the postseason, came on a power play rebound.
Donato would get one back for the Wild with 41 seconds left to play, but the game was all but resolved at that point.
Finally, it appears the Wolves were able to solve both Gerry Mayhew and Hammond in the same game, something they had yet to do all series. In fact, Mayhew finished with just one point (a secondary assist on the Rau goal), while Hammond made just 22 saves on 29 shots.
The scoring support and special teams success certainly doesn’t hurt, either, as the Wolves finally played like the juggernaut everyone had seen they could be entering the postseason, especially with the returns of Carr, Quinney and Brooks Macek to the lineup.
With the win, the Wolves take an important 3-2 lead heading back to Rosemont for the final game, or two if needed, of the Central Division Final. Puck drop is slated for 7 p.m. Monday night for game six.