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Dominant first period pushes Wolves to 6-2 win over Thunderbirds

The series heads to Springfield next, where the Wolves will push to capture the Calder Cup on the road.

Photo courtesy Chicago Wolves

Calder Cup Finals, Game 2: Wolves 6, Thunderbirds 2

Wolves head coach Ryan Warsofsky has continually preached having a strong response to adversity. The Wolves lost consecutive games only six times in the regular season and never lost more than three in a row. Overall the team has been very good at bouncing back from losses and rough performances and the playoffs have been no different.

After surrendering a two-goal lead to lose in overtime on Sunday night, the Wolves knew they had to come out strong to earn a split on home ice before the series went to Springfield. But did anyone expect them to come out with four goals in a span of just over eight minutes in the first period? Feels unlikely.

RIchard Panik and Spencer Smallman scored less than 30 seconds apart to set the tone early for the Wolves. Joey Keane recorded his first goal of the playoffs, followed shortly by a power play goal from Josh Leivo. Leivo’s goal came while the Wolves had a two-minute long five-on-three advantage, thanks to two separate infractions committed against Jack Drury. Ultimately, the home team had four goals before the Thunderbirds recorded even four shots on net.

While the Thunderbirds shifted the momentum their way in the second period, scoring two goals in slightly over two minutes, they were never able to get enough sustained pressure to really challenge the Wolves. In a crucial third period, the Thunderbirds were only able to muster five shots on goal.

Andrew Poturalski and Stefan Noesen both finished the evening with four points, tying franchise postseason records. The last time a Wolves player recorded four points in a playoff game was in 2008, while Darren Haydar recorded four assists in 2007. Additionally, the last four-assist game in the Calder Cup Finals came from Cory Conacher in 2012 with the Norfolk Admirals.

Josh Leivo set a franchise record of his own, as well. His two goals last night gave him 13 for the playoffs, a new record for the Wolves. That’s one he’s sure to smash past, given that there are at least three more games to be played. The Wolves as a team are also getting in on the record-tying action, with their six goals tying a franchise record for most goals scored in a title round game.

But enough about the nuts and bolts of the game, I know you all want to see Pyotr Kochetkov get spicy.

Springfield has been no stranger to a hard-edged game, which has helped them find success throughout the playoffs and wear down the Laval Rocket in particular in the Eastern Conference Finals. In last night’s game, players seemed to bump and jostle Kochetkov frequently, and by the end of the game, the Wolves netminder had seen enough. In the final seconds of the game, Will Bitten got tangled up with Kochetkov, who didn’t take kindly to the sequence, and, well:

Kochetkov was assessed with a minor for leaving the crease, and while Bitten ultimately wasn’t penalized, he was escorted off the ice to end his evening. Kochetkov’s fiery game and personality has been a treat for Wolves fans and personnel alike, and this game was no exception.

Speaking of penalties, the big headline to come from this game is not the dominant win or franchise records or even Kochetkov standing up for himself. It’s Ryan Warsofsky’s visible anger over what he feels is inconsistent officiating. He’s certainly been fired up on the bench throughout the playoffs, but there were several calls in this one that had him and the players in disbelief, including a roughing call against Andrew Poturalski in the second that put the Wolves at a two-man disadvantage.

“As a group, we need to keep our emotions in check, myself included,” Warsofsky said when asked about the team’s response in this game. “But, man, I am lost for words because I’m in [the locker room] preaching: stay disciplined, stay out of the nonsense, and our guys are doing a pretty damn good job of that. And we’re up 5-0, and I want you guys to watch it and you guys tell me what you see to make us on a five-on-three.”

Warsofsky has passionately defended his players all season long when he’s felt they weren’t being judged fairly, and the aftermath of Monday night’s game showed that attitude once again. “[Our] guys are in there, giving everything they have to stay emotionally engaged, to stay calm, to do what they do, to compete. [...] I’m shocked because it’s disappointing that we don’t get officiating in this type of game better than that. It’s that simple.”

The series moves to Springfield next, with games on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. The Wolves will look to overcome a raucous home arena known to Springfield fans as the Thunderdome and win three straight to capture the Calder Cup on the road.

Scoring: Josh Leivo, 2 G; Andrew Poturalski, 1 G, 3 A; Joey Keane, 1 G, 1 A; Richard Panik, 1 G; Spencer Smallman, 1 G; Stefan Noesen, 4 A; Ivan Lodnia, 1 A; Jack Drury, 1 A;

In net: Pyotr Kochetkov, saved 22 of 24, 0.917 sv%