The Chicago Wolves and Iowa Wild both needed five games to advance out of their first-round matchups. The Wild were the last team to finish their first-round series and the first team to start the second round when the Central Division Finals kicked off Wednesday night in Chicago.
Wolves Take Game 1 in Extra Time
These two teams were about as even as you can get during their eight-game, regular-season series. They both had identical 4-2-2 records and went 2-1-1 on home ice with each scoring 21 goals over their eight games. With that being said, nobody should have been surprised that the first game of this series needed overtime in order to decide a winner.
The Wolves grabbed a 3-2 overtime win to take a 1-0 series lead. This is a very good sign for Chicago because they have won their last 20 playoff series where they have won the first game.
The Wolves got two huge additions to their lineup as both league MVP Daniel Carr and Brooks Macek returned from injury. Carr, who led the Wolves with 71 points, had not played since March 5. Macek and his 60 points had not seen the ice since March 20.
The duo teamed up for the first goal of the series, 14:24 into the first period. Carr tipped a shot from the point by defenseman Jake Bischoff, but goaltender Andrew Hammond made the stop. Macek was camped out in front of the net and he was able to put the rebound into the back of the net.
“That was kind of a treat,” Macek said of his goal. “It was just sitting there and I was in the right spot at the right time. I had a chance to put it in and luckily, I didn’t miss.
“Obviously not being able to play in the last series, I couldn’t have been happier that the boys pulled it out. I’m excited that I got to get back into the lineup.”
Gerry Mayhew drew the Wild even with just 1:10 left in the period. Sam Anas set up the play by skating by a couple of defenders and getting the puck to Mayhew in the right circle where he beat Oscar Dansk to the glove side.
Mayhew struck again to give the Wild a 2-1 lead at 16:32 of the second period. After Carson Soucy forced a turnover, Mayhew led a 2-on-1 rush, skated into the slot and fired a wrist shot back to his left for his sixth goal of the playoffs.
Defenseman Nic Hague tied the game 6:28 into the third period with a great individual effort. The rookie blueliner knocked down a clearing attempt and quickly fired home a slap shot from the top of the right circle.
The Rookie Wins it for Chicago
The overtime session was a pretty even affair. The Wild dictated play early on with the Wolves making a push the further along the period went. Both goaltenders had to make a handful of big saves to keep their respective teams alive.
“I actually thought they outplayed us in overtime for the first 10 minutes and Oscar made some huge saves,” said head coach Rocky Thompson.
With less than two minutes remaining in overtime, rookie center Cody Glass fired home a one-timer off a pass from Tye McGinn to give the Wolves a 1-0 series lead.
“I kind of blacked out after I scored,” Glass said with a smile after netting the game-winner. “I know it hit the back of the net so that’s all that matters. I don’t even know what I was doing for a celly at the time, I was just jumping around.”
This was just Glass’ 12th professional game after finishing up his junior career with the Portland Winterhawks in the Western Hockey League. The 20-year-old center is showing why he was selected sixth overall by the Vegas Golden Knights in 2017.
“The center position is the hardest position, in my opinion, to play because you’ve got to play up ice and a 200-foot game,” said Thompson of the prized prospect. “Smart players can sometimes adjust quicker than other players. Cody is really cerebral. He’s humble, so he’s very coachable. I think that has helped his transition.”
Wild Head Home in 0-2 Hole
While Game 1 needed some late heroics to decide a winner, the majority of the scoring on Thursday night game in the first half of the game. In the end, the Wolves held on for a 4-3 win to grab a 2-0 series lead on their rivals to the west.
Five of the seven total goals scored in Game 2 came in the first period of play. For the second night in a row, Macek opened the scoring, this time just 1:29 into the game. He scored from nearly the same spot on the ice he did 24 hours earlier by putting home the rebound off of a Griffin Reinhart shot from the left point.
Just over three minutes later, Matthew Weis doubled the Wolves’ lead. Stefan Matteau picked up the primary assist by forcing a turnover and making a great no-look pass to Weis, in the right circle, where he scored his first professional playoff goal.
“They make my job really easy,” Weis said about playing between Carr and Macek. “They are both, unquestionably, the best players in the league. I just try to get them the puck and let them do their thing.”
Mayhew got the Wild on the scoreboard just past the midway point of the opening frame. While on the power play, Mayhew fired home a shot from the slot for his third goal of the series and his seventh of the Calder Cup playoffs, tops in the AHL. Sam Anas picked up the secondary assist to extend his point streak to four games.
Luke Kunin tied the game, at 17:50, by getting to the front of the net and backhanding the rebound off a Matt Read shot up over the goal line for his fourth goal of the postseason.
Zach Whitecloud responded just 38 seconds later by one-timing a pass from Macek past Hammond to give the Wolves a 3-2 lead.
Matteau picked up his second primary assist of the night, six minutes into the second period, by getting the puck to Tobias Lindberg in the left circle where he scored his first goal of the playoffs.
“Our line has been doing good, we’ve been together for quite a bit,” said Matteau. “Tonight, we were fortunate to get a couple of goals and a couple of good bounces; turnovers on their part and we took advantage when we had to.”
Kunin scored a second goal to cut the lead to 4-3 in the final minute of the second period. Kunin grabbed an errant clearing attempt just inside the blue line and flipped the puck towards the net. The shot may have hit off a Chicago defender on its way to the back of the net.
Neither team scored during the final period, but that wasn’t because of a lack of trying. The Wild pulled Hammond with just under two minutes to go and they applied major pressure in the offensive zone. The Wolves stepped up defensively by blocking five shots during the final sequence in order to secure the win.
“There’s going to be opportunities when you’re short a man 6-on-5,” Thompson said. “At the end of the day, you’ve got to pay a price and everybody was. You could see it out there. There was a number of blocked shots by all the different guys out there and you’ve got to give them a lot of credit. That’s how you win games. You’ve got to pay the price and our guys did.”
The Wild are Down, but Far from Out
Being down 0-2 to the reigning Central Division champions is far from ideal. However, the Wild will host the next three games of the series at the Wells Fargo Arena, one of the toughest buildings in the AHL to win in.
The Wild earned 52 points on home ice during the regular season and outscored the Milwaukee Admirals 13-1 in their two home games during the playoffs.
“It’s our home ice and it’s going to be great to play in front of our home fans,” captain Cal O’Reilly said. “We’ve been really good in our building and we know from our first series, the atmosphere is going to be fun.”
Head coach Tim Army is not happy about the start of the series, but he knows there is plenty of hockey to be played.
“They’re a good team,” Army said. “They’re very opportunistic, very dangerous. All Chicago did was hold serve. This is four out of seven and until that last puck goes in or that last buzzer sounds, we are still alive.”
The Central Division Finals continues with Game 3 on Sunday afternoon.