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Wolves win three straight, Drury records first pro hat trick

Chicago helped solidify its monster lead on first place in the Central Division with three straight wins

Ross Dettman/Chicago Wolves

Game 49: Wolves 5, Stars 3

Pyotr Kochetkov’s second career AHL start began just as inauspiciously as his first, as he surrendered a goal on his first shot faced. Just eight seconds into play, Stars forward Josh Melnick beat Wolves defenseman Josh Jacobs to the net and scored.

That goal set a new Wolves franchise record for fastest goal against. The previous record was 15 seconds, scored by Greg Pankewicz from the Manitoba Moose in 1998. The goal was also the fastest scored to start a game in Texas Stars history, as well.

The rough start for the Wolves woke them up quickly enough, however, as they began being much more active. While the Stars continued to dominate in terms of shots, the Wolves did a better job of sweeping pucks away rather than allowing flurries of shots. At times, a minute or more would go by without the Stars recording a scoring chance. The Wolves also had several near misses, with Stefan Noesen and Cavan Fitzgerald both nearly beating the goalie.

At 7:21, Noesen scored on the Wolves’ fourth shot of the game and their first shot in approximately three minutes. More delightful than the Wolves tying the game, however, is the breakout pass from Kochetkov to Max Lajoie, giving Kochetkov his first North American point.

The Stars retook the lead shortly after Noesen’s goal, scoring on the power play. This broke a five game streak where the Wolves were perfect on the penalty kill. Overall, the Wolves struggled at times with puck control in this game, with many passes going awry or pucks being missed or whiffed on during scoring chances.

The Wolves came out stronger in the second period, however, capitalizing more quickly on the Stars’ mistakes. Early in the second period, CJ Smith tied the game again after lifting a puck over a sprawling Matt Jurusik.

Ryan Suzuki added his fourth goal of the season later in the period, taking advantage of a perfectly placed rebound. Jack Drury increased the Wolves’ lead; midway through the period, Drury bullied his way into the zone while the Wolves were shorthanded. During a chaotic play, Jurusik lost his stick, a referee went down behind the net, and Drury found a rebound to give the Wolves their fourth goal of the evening.

While the penalty kill surrendered a goal quickly after Drury’s tally, the Wolves didn’t give up the lead. Maxim Letunov scored on a delayed penalty after picking up a loose puck in front of the Stars net, recording the final goal of the game.

For the Wolves, resilience was key in this game. They were coming off of a weird weekend of games in Manitoba, where a potential game-winner got called back in overtime, only to step into this game and immediately get scored on. Head coach Ryan Warsofsky was glad to see his team battle back from the questionable start.

“That was something we talked about,” Warsofsky said after the game. “We’ve got to be resilient, we’ve got to have some mental toughness because things are gonna go wrong. In the playoffs things are gonna go wrong. It’s gonna be a bad call. It’s gonna hit a stanchion. It’s gonna be a bad bounce. So we need to have the mental awareness and mental toughness to battle through it, stick together as a group, and continue to work.”

Scoring: Ryan Suzuki, 1 G; CJ Smith, 1 G; Jack Drury, 1 G; Maxim Letunov, 1 G; Stefan Noesen, 1 G; Max Lajoie, 1 A; Stelio Mattheos, 1 A; Eric Williams, 1 A; Spencer Smallman, 1 A; Artyom Serikov, 1 A; Jamieson Rees, 1 A; Jesper Sellgren, 1 A; Pyotr Kochetkov, 1 A

In net: Pyotr Kochetkov, saved 31 of 34, 0.912 sv%

Game 50: Wolves 2, Stars 1

Kochetkov got his second consecutive start on Saturday and recorded his third career AHL win with a stellar performance, including stopping all 13 shots he faced in a frantic second period.

While the Stars opened scoring in the first and were largely the better team throughout the game, the Wolves walked away winners thanks to goals in the second and third periods from David Gust and Stefan Noesen. Gust in particular continued on a strong run of recent play. Including the next day’s game against Iowa, Gust has points in eight of his last 10.

In an attempt to spark some life on the team, Warsofsky changed up some of the lines, which have been largely consistent for most of the season. Spencer Smallman and Stefan Noesen joined Jack Drury, while CJ Smith and Josh Leivo moved around to play with Andrew Poturalski. Those new look lines stayed consistent throughout the weekend, as well.

Warsofsky credited Kochetkov’s performance with helping the Wolves stay competitive while the team struggled to put shots on net. “We probably didn’t deserve to win that game, but Pyotr, I think, stole us that hockey game,” Warsofsky said.

Stefan Noesen’s goal was the 30th of the season for the veteran forward, scored over the course of 45 games. He’s the fastest Wolves player to reach 30 goals since Brett Sterling in the 2006-07 season.

Scoring: Stefan Noesen, 1 G; David Gust, 1 G; Ryan Suzuki, 1 A; Eric Williams, 1 A; Jack Drury, 1 A; Spencer Smallman, 1 A

In net: Pyotr Kochetkov, saved 30 of 31, 0.968 sv%

Game 51: Wolves 5, Wild 3

The Wolves continued their homestand with another game against the Iowa Wild. Jack LaFontaine finally collected his second AHL win, but the the spotlight once again belonged to Jack Drury, who recorded his first professional hat trick. Drury’s first tally at 8:39 in the second period helped spark a Wolves comeback from a 2-0 deficit. The home team reeled off five consecutive goals in the second and third periods to put the game out of reach for the Wild.

Earlier in the week, Warsofsky had nothing but praise for Drury, who currently has an 11-game point streak. “I think he’s raised his expectation as what he’s gonna be in the NHL, but I think the sky’s the limit just because he’s a smart player, he’s got great hockey instincts. You know, you show him something once and he picks it up. He sees the game extremely well, he gives you everything he’s got and I think he’s a Rod Brind’Amour type of player,” Warsofsky said. “He’s kind of set the tone on how we want to play and he’s a winner through and through. I can’t say enough good things.”

Ryan Suzuki also scored, recording a point in his third consecutive game. He had a nearly empty net to shoot into after Max Lajoie won a faceoff and David Gust drew all the attention at the side of the net.

Scoring: Jack Drury, 3 G; Ryan Suzuki, 1 G; Josh Leivo, 1 G: Max Lajoie, 2 A; Spencer Smallman, 2 A; Andrew Poturalski, 2 A; Stefan Noesen, 2 A; David Gust, 1 A; CJ Smith, 1 A;

In net: Jack LaFontaine, saved 25 of 27, 0.926 sv%