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Chicago Wolves sweep Texas road trip, win ninth straight game

Captain Andrew Poturalski recorded 10 points in three games.

Ross Dettman/Chicago Wolves

Game 21: Wolves 8, Stars 4

Josh Leivo often feels like the forgotten member of this year’s Wolves squad. He had a quiet start to the season, then spent a bit of time up with the Hurricanes in early November. Since returning to the AHL, Leivo has been on a tear, recording 13 points in 11 games, including a career-high five points in this win over the Stars.

In their first of three games against the Texas Stars, Leivo and eight other Wolves recorded points en route to an 8-4 victory. C.J. Smith recorded his second career hat trick to help the team to a win. The Wolves’ eight goals were a season high for the team.

This game was far looser than many of the Wolves’ recent matches, with each team trading goals in a 3-3 first period. Goaltender Eetu Mäkiniemi didn’t have his strongest night, but for once, the team in front of him exploded in offense to help him out.

The Wolves faced off against Ben Bishop in net for the Stars. Bishop had been loaned to the AHL on a conditioning assignment in order to play his first game in over a year after rehabbing from knee surgery. The game clearly did not go well for Bishop, and shortly thereafter, Dallas Stars general manager Jim Nill announced that Bishop’s playing days are over.

Scoring: C.J. Smith, 3 G; Josh Leivo, 2 G, 3 A; Andrew Poturalski, 1 G, 3 A; Joey Keane, 1 G, 2 A; Jack Drury, 1 G, 1 A; Stefan Noesen, 2 A; Jamieson Rees, 1 A; Dominik Bokk, 1 A; Cavan Fitzgerald, 1 A

In net: Eetu Mäkiniemi, saved 19 of 23, 0.826 Sv%

Game 22: Wolves 4, Stars 3 (OT)

While the personnel have changed for the Wolves over the years, anyone who followed the team during the Vegas affiliation days probably has some level of affection for forward Curtis McKenzie, an alternate captain for the Wolves from 2018-20. McKenzie, a seasoned AHL veteran, was an easy fan favorite with his energetic play and penchant for scoring big goals.

After a year in Utica, McKenzie returned to the Stars, where he’d spent the majority of his career prior to landing in Chicago. On Saturday, McKenzie celebrated his 500th professional hockey game.

So of course it was McKenzie who scored the game-tying goal with a little over two minutes left on the clock. A late penalty from Cavan Fitzgerald put the Wolves on the penalty kill, which has been a point of struggle for the team this season. The tying goal felt nearly inevitable as the Stars maintained possession with the man advantage.

That tying goal came about due to what could politely be called a big learning moment for Jack Drury. He collected the puck and took it behind his own net, and then chose to fire a backhand pass up the wall in an apparent attempt to clear the puck. Instead, he turned the puck over directly to Stars forward Riley Damiani. Damiani’s shot was tipped wide, but the subsequent penalty from Fitzgerald to break up a scoring chance is what led to the Wolves’ failed penalty kill.

Fortunately the team pulled out a win and hopefully, Drury learned a little something about blind backhanded passes.

This team has largely been led by its veteran line of Andrew Poturalski, C.J. Smith and Stefan Noesen, and this game was no different. All three scored in regulation, and the overtime winner was a joint effort from Poturalski and Noesen. For the second consecutive game, Poturalski recorded four points.

Scoring: Stefan Noesen, 2 G; Andrew Poturalski, 1 G, 3 A; C.J. Smith, 1 G; Jesper Sellgren, 2 A; Josh Leivo, 1 A; Joey Keane, 1 A

In net: Alex Lyon, saved 27 of 30, 0.900 Sv%

Game 23: Wolves 7, Stars 2

For the sixteenth consecutive game, the Wolves outshot their opponent as they cruised to their ninth straight win. The Wolves completed their sweep of their Texas road trip with a five-goal victory, their biggest goal differential this season.

Jack Drury, making up for his error on the tying goal on Saturday, recorded two goals and an assist. It’s the first time he’s scored multiple goals since Oct. 27, and a new career high in points per game. Drury’s first goal was helped over the line a bit by a Stars defenseman, but the second was a strong backhanded shot.

In total, 11 different Wolves players recorded points. Stefan Noesen, born in Plano, Texas, recorded two goals, including his 50th career AHL goal. David Cotton, the team’s other native Texan (Parker, Texas) recorded an assist.

The Wolves’ nine-game win streak has them tied for second place in franchise history; the team has three other streaks of that length. It’s their longest streak since the 2016-17 season.

Scoring: Jack Drury, 2 G, 1 A; Stefan Noesen, 2 G, 1 A; Andrew Poturalski, 1 G, 1 A; Josh Jacobs, 1 G, 1 A; Spencer Smallman, 1 G; Josh Leivo, 3 A; C.J. Smith, 2 A; David Cotton, 1 A; David Gust, 1 A; Jesper Sellgren, 1 A

In net: Eetu Mäkiniemi, saved 26 of 28, 0.929 Sv%

Something feels like it’s shifted with this Wolves team since the start of the win streak — their come-from-behind 5-3 win in Grand Rapids on Nov. 26. As head coach Ryan Warsofsky repeatedly pointed out earlier in the season, this is a team that would often fall apart once they got behind on the score sheet. Now, however, the Wolves are playing with a new level of confidence that’s helping them right the ship when they get behind.

They face a tough challenge this week, with two of three games against the Manitoba Moose. The Moose currently sit second in the Central Division and are one of just three teams to hand the Wolves a loss this season. (The other losses come at the hands of the IceHogs and Marlies.)