Western Conference Finals, Game 6: Wolves 3, Heat 0
The temperature topped out at over 100 degrees in Chicago on Tuesday, but inside the Allstate Arena, the Stockton Heat had their flame extinguished by the Wolves, who are headed back to the Calder Cup Final. The Wolves of course appeared in the 2019 final, the last time the trophy was awarded thanks to two seasons interrupted by the pandemic, and while the roster is entirely different, the accomplishment for the franchise is significant nonetheless.
The Heat and Wolves played each other largely to a standstill for 48 minutes, with Pyotr Kochetkov and Dustin Wolf making fantastic saves on both ends of the ice.
Penalty troubles for the Wolves made Kochetkov’s job harder than necessary in the early stages of the game — the Wolves took the only penalties of the first period, heading to the box three separate times. The penalty kill was phenomenal, however, allowing no goals in this game and only one goal in the entire series for a 96.4% success rate against the Heat.
As the game progressed, it was easy to start to get nervous. The game had the feeling of one where a silly mistake or strangely deflected shot would end up being the game winner. The eventual game winner wasn’t quite that strange, but it was a shot that no one — not even the goal scorer — realized went in at first.
At just over eight minutes into the third period, Ivan Lodnia and Spencer Smallman teamed up to get a puck to linemate Jamieson Rees. Rees picked up the puck just before the blue line and entered the zone while being hounded by Heat defenseman Juuso Valimaki. Carrying the puck behind the net, Rees continued to draw the attention of the Heat. The puck eventually came free to Smallman, who found Lodnia left all alone in front of the net.
Speaking about his goal after the game, Lodnia credited his teammates for setting him up: “[Rees and Smallman], they both made really strong plays. I don’t know, I shot it, I didn’t know where it was [...] I just saw the fans get up so I assumed it went in.”
Lodnia, who has been in and out of the lineup in both the regular season and playoffs, has three goals in six playoff appearances: the opening goal in game three against Rockford, the insurance goal in game three against Stockton, and now this game winner. He’s well aware of his role on the team and knew when joining the Wolves that he wasn’t going to automatically be a lineup regular. “The first thing that me and [Warsofsky] talked about when I first came to the team was, you know, we have a really good group,” he said. “Whenever you’re not in, just try to get better and when you’re in, help us win and, you know, for the past seven months, that’s all I’ve been doing every day.”
After the Lodnia goal, the Wolves entered shutdown mode, allowing only five shots on goal from the Heat, and only one in the final five minutes of play. (And even that one came at 15:01 in the third.) Andrew Poturalski picked up a burst of speed in the neutral zone to get in against Dustin Wolf to make it 2-0 for his team.
The Wolves largely maintained possession in the closing minutes of the game, making it difficult for Stockton to find any point where they could pull Wolf for the extra attacker. They finally got him out of the net with 50 seconds left to play; Josh Leivo shot a puck into the empty net from the neutral zone just five seconds later to put the game away.
After the game, while clearly pleased with the win, Ryan Warsofsky was complimentary about his team’s opponent: “They’re a really good hockey team. It’s the best team we’ve faced all year, not even close,” he said about Stockton. “They’re well-coached, they’ve got a great goaltender [...] honestly, very similar teams.”
With three of six games going to overtime, one being decided via a last-minute goal, and two shutouts that were much closer than they appeared, the assessment rings true. While the Wolves dominated their first two series in terms of goals scored, they only barely edged out Stockton 19-13 and turned in a series that had the Allstate Arena on their feet at the final horn.
Scoring: Josh Leivo, 1 G; Andrew Poturalski, 1 G; Ivan Lodnia, 1 G; Spencer Smallman, 1 A: Stefan Noesen, 1 A; Jamieson Rees, 1 A
In net: Pyotr Kochetkov, saved 28 of 28, 1.000 sv%