The Chicago Wolves and Grand Rapids Griffins took their Central Division Semifinal series back to Michigan for a pair of spirited games. After the Griffins won Game 3, the Wolves overcame the odds to win Game 4 and force a fifth and final game to see who advances to the next round.
Griffins Win a Chaotic Game 3
Tuesday night’s pivotal Game 3 literally had a bit of everything, with big hits, plenty of post-whistle shenanigans, multiple injuries, an hour delay for bad ice and 144 combined penalty minutes. When the dust settled, the Griffins won 6-2 to take a 2-1 series lead.
The ugliness started 9:30 into the first period when Dylan McIlrath nailed Tyler Wong with a check to the head at center ice. McIlrath was given a five-minute major and a match penalty for the hit. Wong, who was knocked out cold, was carried off the ice on a stretcher. He spent the night in an area hospital before being released on Wednesday and returning to Chicago.
T.J. Tynan got the Wolves on the board, during the ensuing power play, by blasting a one-timer home from the right dot at 12:31. Tomas Hyka and Zach Whitecloud started a pretty passing play that Tynan finished off.
Filip Zadina tied the game with just 32 seconds left in the opening frame. From the goal line, in the right corner, Zadina banked the puck off of goaltender Max Lagace for his first professional playoff goal.
Martin Frk, who was a healthy scratch for the first two games of the series, gave the Griffins a 2-1 lead at 2:24 of the second period. While playing at 4-on-4, Frk unleashed a slap shot from the left wing that found its way past Lagace.
The Wolves responded three and a half minutes later to draw even at 2-2. Tye McGinn scored from the slot for his second goal of the series and extended his personal point streak to seven games.
Wade Megan, who won an AHL scoring title with the Wolves in 2016-17, scored the eventual game-winning goal at 9:16. Frk skated the puck up the left side before passing it to a wide open Megan at the back door.
Megan scored another goal, on the power play, just over three minutes later. This time it was Matt Puempel who found Megan all alone in the slot for the tally.
Giavani Smith increased the lead to 5-2 about five minutes later by skating around the zone and through multiple checks before finding Zadina at the side of the net for his second goal of the night.
The start of the third period was delayed 57 minutes due to a melted patch of ice behind the south goal. The teams were sent back to the locker rooms twice and the Zambonis were called upon a second time before play finally resumed.
Puempel finished off the scoring with a goal from the top of the right circle late in the final frame.
The Aftermath Following the Craziness
Game 3 featured a ton of dirty hits and anger. The teams combined for two fights and seven misconduct penalties in a contest the referees lost control of early on. Both coaches had plenty to say about how things went down.
“I thought we were playing really well and we were controlling the game,” said Wolves head coach Rocky Thompson. “They were taking really dangerous hits on our players – and they got called for the first one. Then it was just one thing after another. It doesn’t add up to me.”
“From the game’s perspective, our guys played hard and they played good. Obviously, you get frustrated (when teammates keep getting hurt).”
Related – Griffins Earn Split in Chicago
As you can imagine, the feeling was mutual in the Grand Rapids locker room.
“It’s tough because you don’t want guys to get hurt,” said Griffins’ bench boss Ben Simon. “As much as we were complaining about those guys taking liberties or cheap shots at us, I know our guys are getting frustrated and doing something stupid to them – putting themselves in a vulnerable position to get suspended.”
Simon had some foresight with those comments as the AHL suspended two of his players on Wednesday. Smith was suspended one game and Dominik Turgeon will have to sit out the next two contests because of his actions in Game 3.
Wolves Dig Deep to Force Final Game
The Wolves were shorthanded when this series started with Daniel Carr, Dylan Coghlan, Reid Duke and Brooks Macek all on the injured list. Things got worse as Wong, Gage Quinney and Griffin Reinhart all missed Wednesday’s Game 4 due to injuries suffered the previous night.
Josh Atkinson, Jake Leschyshyn and Tobias Lindberg made their series debut in Game 4 due to the new injuries. The trio had a total of five games of Calder Cup playoff experience, all by Lindberg.
Meanwhile, in addition to the suspensions to Smith and Turgeon, the Griffins were also without veterans Matthew Ford and Brian Lashoff due to injury. Former University of Denver forward Jarid Lukosevicius made his professional debut in Game 4.
The teams skated through a scoreless first period that didn’t have the same violence and post-whistle activities from the night before. In fact, a total of two minor penalties were called and neither team could score on their power play chances.
For the first time in the series, the Griffins opened the scoring seven minutes into the second period. Shortly after a power play expired, Derek Hulak fired the puck past goaltender Oscar Dansk for his first goal of the postseason.
The Wolves answered with a power-play goal just over two minutes later to even up the score. McGinn extended his point streak by setting up defenseman Nic Hague’s one-timer from the right circle.
Tynan gave the Wolves a 2-1 lead with another power play goal, from nearly the same spot, at 12:44 of the second period.
Cody Glass increased the Wolves’ lead to 3-1 1:03 into the third period, with his first professional postseason goal. McGinn picked up yet another point by faking a shot and finding the first-round pick at the left post for the easy score.
The Griffins got that goal back just 65 seconds later when Filip Hronek passed the puck over to Turner Elson on the left wing, where he shot it just inside the far post for his second goal of the series.
The Wolves stretched their advantage and capped off the scoring with a pair of late empty-net goals by McGinn and Keegan Kolesar.
Wolves & Griffins set for Winner-Take-All Game 5
The mood out of the Chicago locker room was of pride and relief. They know that all their hard work this season now comes down to one game on Sunday afternoon.
“We had a meeting this morning about not lamenting on what happened the previous night,” said Thompson after rebounding in Game 4. “Just focusing on what we needed to do for the game tonight.
“I thought our guys did a really good job. Our leadership stepped up and really took control of the locker room – controlling the emotions of each other, really – and playing a much more disciplined game. Not getting sucked into stuff after the whistle.”
Tynan has been a key to the Wolves’ success down the stretch, especially after Carr was injured in early March.
“The job’s not done yet,” Tynan said on Wednesday night. “We’ve got one more to go. We’re in the same position, right? Win or your season’s done. And I don’t think anyone’s ready to be done with this group. We’ve got a great group of guys and it’s a lot of fun to play.”
Even though the Griffins know they missed a chance to close out the Wolves on home ice, they are confident they can win another game in Chicago.
“We know we can win,” said forward Colin Campbell, who had goals in both Games 1 and 2. “We are going to get our rest tomorrow, get our practice down Friday and Saturday and take the bus there. I think we are a confident group in here and we can definitely win a hockey game.”
The Wolves will host Game 5 on Sunday afternoon to see who advances to the Central Division Final. This is the second time these two teams will meet in a winner-take-all Game 5, with the Wolves winning the previous meeting back in 2002.