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Chicago Wolves on brink of sweeping Milwaukee in Central Division Finals

Stefan Noesen records his first career postseason hat trick.

Ross Dettman/Chicago Wolves

Central Division Finals, Game 1: Wolves 6, Admirals 2

Despite scoring first, thanks to Jack Drury on the Wolves’ first shot just 32 seconds in, the Wolves did not have a strong first period, being outshot 13-5 by Milwaukee. Alex Lyon’s excellent performance in net held the Wolves in the game when they were off to a slow start. When the Admirals tied the game early in the second, it felt like the game could easily become a very back-and-forth affair.

The Wolves proceeded to reel off three straight goals in the second period to dispel any such notions. Andrew Poturalski’s goal with just two seconds left in the second period signified the end of the night for Admirals goaltender Connor Ingram. Devin Cooley, who played two goals last season for the Wolves, took over the net at the beginning of the third. His night didn’t go much better, however. Two more goals in the third period, including Jack Drury’s second of the game, put this game far out of reach for the Admirals.

The team got input from up and down their lineup, with Jamieson Rees and Stelio Mattheos both chipping in. One key for success in this series is ensuring that scoring isn’t limited to just the Wolves’ top six, so Rees and Mattheos getting on the scoreboard bodes well for the Wolves’ future success in this series.

Scoring: Jack Drury, 2 G; Josh Leivo, 1 G, 1 A; Stelio Mattheos, 1 G, 1 A; Jamieson Rees, 1 G, 1 A; Andrew Poturalski, 1 G; Max Lajoie, 3 A; Jalen Chatfield, 2 A; CJ Smith, 1 A; Cavan Fitzgerald, 1 A; Vasili Ponomarev, 1 A

In net: Alex Lyon, saved 33 of 35, 0.943 sv%

Central Division Finals, Game 2: Wolves 8, Admirals 2

Despite the back-to-back situation for the teams, both Alex Lyon and Connor Ingram started in net for game two. The Wolves once again opened scoring, with David Gust chipping in a backhand shot at 4:01 in the first period. He and Josh Leivo had just come down the ice and been denied, but maintained control of the puck for the eventual tally.

In a game that was at times a repeat of the night before, the Admirals applied a lot of pressure in the first period, outshooting the Wolves 15-8 in that frame. Milwaukee tied the game at 13:52 of the first, only to allow seven straight goals from the Wolves over the last five minutes of the first period and the whole of the third.

The Admirals notched a second goal at the start of the third period, but once again it was far too little, too late. In the crucial third period, the Admirals could only muster seven shots on goal. For the second game in a row, Connor Ingram’s night ended early. He was replaced by Devin Cooley midway through the second period, with the switch occurring after CJ Smith’s power play goal. This was the third game of the Wolves’ postseason where they chased a starting goaltender; Rockford’s Arvid Soderblom was also replaced once.

Stefan Noesen continues his strong season with some impressive games so far. He’s only made two previous AHL playoffs appearances, scoring a total of two goals across 13 games. Noesen has five goals in five games with the Wolves, with his first playoff hat trick coming entirely in the second period.

For Noesen, his success as well as the team’s hinges on playing their own game: “We have a game plan and we stick to it. [...] We don’t straight too far from it. We’re a hard team to play against when we play the right way. And we’ve been playing that way and so far so good.”

The long-standing bad blood between the two teams flared up at the end of the third period, with 42 minutes worth of infractions being handed out in the final four minutes of play. Admirals players Matt Donovan, Mathieu Olivier, Mitch McLain, Dylan Blujus, Jimmy Huntington, and Graham Knott were all escorted off the ice after incurring penalties, as were Kyle Marino and Jesper Sellgren from the Wolves.

Maintaining focus for game three is crucial. The Admirals always play to an enthusiastic home crowd and will try to assert themselves early. Three of the four Wolves losses to Milwaukee came while on the road.

Ryan Warsofsky echoed Noesen’s commitment to having the team play within their identity rather than letting Milwaukee control the flow of the game: “Our guys know we’ve just got to play. No, we just got to play. I know it sounds so cliche, but just play. That’s our game. We’re gonna compete. We’re gonna play with our structure. We know how our identity is. We’re not going to be a team that tries to get into the extra stuff and be undisciplined and put teams on power plays. We’re just going to play.”

The Wolves head to Milwaukee on Wednesday for game three and a chance to eliminate their opponent. Their efforts to play their own game and stick to their plan, rather than allowing themselves to get goaded into penalties or sloppy play, is showing off on the scoreboard: the team so far has a +20 goal differential through five games.

Scoring: Stefan Noesen, 3 G; David Gust, 2 G, 1 A; Andrew Poturalski, 1 G, 2 A; CJ Smith, 1 G, 2 A; Max Lajoie, 1 G; Josh Leivo, 3 A; Jack Drury, 2 A; Jalen Chatfield, 1 A; Cavan Fitzgerald, 1 A; Jamieson Rees, 1 A; Vasili Ponomarev, 1 A

In net: Alex Lyon, saved 30 of 32, 0.938 sv%