Game 15: Wolves 5, Griffins 3
Giving up leads has been the name of the game for the Chicago Wolves lately, only this time around, they were the ones benefiting from a team’s mistakes. The Wolves got off to a slow start, surrendering three goals in the first two periods. Jared McIsaac’s first professional goal opened scoring for the Griffins, and, perhaps more importantly, cued the Grand Rapids crowd to unleash the bears for Teddy Bear Toss Night.
There are some quality stuffed animals making their way to the ice pic.twitter.com/lZsTmr4iJ3— Sarah Avampato (@WriteSaidSarah) November 27, 2021
The teddies are flying at Van Andel Arena pic.twitter.com/Jx97cHOami— Devin L. (@HockeyWithDevin) November 27, 2021
After the extended delay to clean up many, many bears, the hope was that the Wolves would have had a chance to recapture some momentum, but Kyle Criscuolo shoveled in a rebound just over a minute (in actual game time) later.
An early third period penalty from Griffins forward Riley Barber opened the door for the Wolves to begin a comeback. Josh Leivo scored his first of the season on the power play. Leivo’s goal gave the Wolves life, and less than a minute later, Max Letunov scored his fourth of the season to put the Wolves within one.
The two teams then proceeded to play each other to a stalemate, with Eetu Mäkiniemi and Calvin Pickard making some huge saves for their team. With two minutes left, Mäkiniemi was pulled for the extra attacker, a move which paid off immediately.
Spencer Smallman was perfectly positioned to receive a pass from behind the goal line from Jack Drury. The Wolves tied the game, the first time all season that they’ve scored with the extra attacker on ice.
While all eyes were turned towards overtime, the Wolves had other ideas. On the next shift, Stefan Noesen took the puck into the corner before sending it towards the net. The puck bounced off of Andrew Poturalski, went over Pickard, and popped out to C.J. Smith, who put it in the net to give the Wolves a very unexpected lead.
C.J. said "no thanks" to overtime. pic.twitter.com/zWVMUKji5U— Chicago Wolves (@Chicago_Wolves) November 27, 2021
An empty net goal from Poturalski sealed the win for the Wolves. Poturalski’s four point night was the sixth time this season he recorded a multi-point game and the most points he’s had since an October 31 win over Grand Rapids (three goals, two assists).
Scoring: Andrew Poturalski, 1 G, 3 A; C.J. Smith, 1 G; Josh Leivo, 1 G; Maxim Letunov, 1 G; Jalen Chatfield, 1 A; Jack Drury, 1 A; Stefan Noesen, 1 A; Dominik Bokk, 1 A; Sam Miletic, 1 A
In net: Eetu Mäkiniemi, saved 29 of 32, 0.906 Sv%
Game 16: Wolves 3, IceHogs 2 (SO)
Last weekend saw the Wolves struggle to hold a lead against the Rockford IceHogs, a trend for the team this year.
This is the 5th meeting of the season between these two teams. The IceHogs have won 3 out of the first 4, including both games at the Allstate Arena, despite trailing 2-0 in every game. Whichever team has scored the third goal has won each game of the season series. #RFDvsCHI— Greg Boysen (@GregBoysen) November 28, 2021
The Wolves struggled to get anything established on an early power play opportunity, but midway through the period, they got another shot at it, and this time, Max Letunov tipped in a C.J. Smith shot to get scoring started.
While the Wolves outshot the IceHogs 14-4 in the first period, Rockford picked up the pace in the second. Isaak Phillips scored 33 seconds into the period off of a tough angle from the goal line. The IceHogs second goal took a funny bounce off of a Wolves player to get behind Alex Lyon, who had otherwise been strong despite limited shots faced.
The third period saw the action heat up between the two traditional rivals, with two Wolves penalties and a fight between Stefan Noesen and Evan Barratt. The third also saw IceHogs forward Brett Connolly go down with an apparent right leg injury after an accidental collision with a Wolves player. Connolly, one of Rockford’s top players, needed help off the ice as he appeared to be unable to put any weight on his right leg.
The Wolves tying goal came shortly after, with C.J. Smith taking a puck around the back of the net and tucking it in.
The game couldn’t be solved in overtime, so headed to a shootout. Michal Teply, D.J. Busdeker, and Lukas Reichel were all stopped by Lyon. C.J. Smith and Andrew Poturalski were stopped by Collin Delia, but Josh Leivo converted to give the Wolves the win.
After the game, C.J. Smith spoke about the team’s penchant for comebacks. “It obviously shows what we have for passion and for each other in the locker room,” he said. “We just need to stop putting ourselves in positions that we’re having to do that. So it’s great that we’re doing that and getting some wins, but I think we should be not putting ourselves in that position where we have to do that a lot.”
Coach Ryan Warsofsky, who has often spoken about the team struggling when things don’t go their way, was pleased that the team found a way to win. He particularly cited C.J. Smith as the team’s best player that evening, especially as a player who’s taken instruction to heart to improve his game.
Scoring: C.J. Smith, 1 G, 1 A; Maxim Letunov, 1 G; Andrew Poturalski, 1 A; Dominik Bokk, 1 A; Joey Keane, 1 A
In net: Alex Lyon, saved 17 of 19, 0.895 Sv%
Game 17: Wolves 3, Griffins 1
The Grand Rapids Griffins rounded out the Wolves’ three-in-three slate of games. As a rematch after the Griffins gave up a 3-0 lead on Friday, this game seemed destined to be emotional. On Saturday night, Warsofsky acknowledged what was coming.
“I don’t even think I need to say anything,” he said, regarding how to keep the team on track. “I think our guys are going to know [Grand Rapids] are going to be ready. … We need to make our game simple. We know how we need to play. Our guys know it.”
In a reversal of Friday’s game, the Wolves jumped out to a 3-0 lead by the end of the second period. They also dominated in shots, 33 to 15 over the first two periods. While Grand Rapids controlled the game early, the Wolves very quickly took over. C.J. Smith took advantage of a Griffins turnover and sent the puck towards the net. Andrew Poturalski deflected it, giving him his team-leading ninth goal of the season.
Poturalski’s goal also saw him take over the franchise record for most points in a season against Grand Rapids — and consider, there are still many more games to go in this matchup.
Leivo scored on the power play at the start of the second period, and Stefan Noesen recorded his fifth of the season to give the Wolves a 3-0 lead. Noesen’s goal came on a particularly brilliant sequence where Mäkiniemi robbed Riley Barber on a point blank shot, then sent play going back the other way.
Mäkiniemi was fantastic throughout the whole game. While he only faced 19 shots total, the Wolves were giving up quality chances. Whether it was an athletic sprawling save or a simple pad stop, Mäkiniemi was up to the challenge.
(That particular sequence featured the loudest ping I think I’ve ever heard.)
While the Griffins tried to establish pressure in the third period, hoping for a comeback of their own, the Wolves’ defense shut things down and limited them to only four shots. The Wolves did surrender one goal while playing short two men, but otherwise kept the Griffins off the scoresheet.
The Wolves have won all five games against the Griffins this season. Poturalski seemed surprised to learn about setting a new franchise record, but didn’t think it was anything special that’s driving his success. “I got a couple buddies on the other team and it’s funny joking against them but I don’t think there’s any real reason for it,” he said. “It’s just me going out and playing and for whatever reason I’m getting some good bounces against them. I’d love to keep playing them every night.”
The team’s mood was noticeable lighter after the win, with loud, upbeat music pouring out of the locker room. Poturalski felt the shift in mood came after Friday’s win in Grand Rapids.
“It started with that third period Friday night in Grand Rapids, showed what kind of team we were to come back from three down and score five unanswered in the third,” he said. “That was a season-changing game, like coach said to us after that game. We just kept that momentum going and take it one game at a time. But three-in-threes are definitely not easy on the body and the mind and to come out with three wins, that’s definitely huge for us.”
Warsofsky had a simple way to sum up this weekend’s games.
“You know, I thought we won different ways this weekend. Obviously … big comeback on Friday, the comeback last night. And then tonight, we kind of managed the game a lot better. That’s how we need to play up with a lead in the third period. We just managed the game better. You know, it’s that simple.”
Scoring: Stefan Noesen, 1 G, 2 A; Andrew Poturalski, 1 G; Josh Leivo, 1 G; C.J. Smith, 2 A; Max Lajoie, 1 A; Jesper Sellgren, 1 A
In net: Eetu Mäkiniemi, saved 18 of 19, 0.947 Sv%