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Chicago Wolves just one win away from Calder Cup

It’s familiar territory for head coach Ryan Warsofsky.

Dale Woltman/Chicago Wolves

Ryan Warsofsky’s been here before. So has Andrew Poturalski. (And Jesper Sellgren, Spencer Smallman, and Stelio Mattheos.)

Lose game one of the Calder Cup Finals on home ice in overtime. Have a rude awakening in regards to the skill, the compete level of your opponent. This is the finals, after all. You’re up against the best of the best. Neither team gets that far just on a fluke.

Use that one disappointment to fuel you to reel off four straight wins, including three on the road, to win the AHL’s ultimate prize.

The Wolves haven’t quite pulled that one off yet, but in just a few hours, they’ll get a chance to do just that in Springfield. Since that game one loss, the Wolves have outscored Springfield 14-4 and have not trailed for a single minute of play.

This is a team on the mission, and they’ve gotten there by doing the same things Warsofsky has preached all season long — stay disciplined, play your game, focus on the here and now. It hasn’t been easy. The Wolves have found themselves in penalty trouble (whether deserved or not probably depends on who you ask). Springfield has outshot them in games three and four.

But the defense has been strong. Players like Spencer Smallman — a guy familiar with playing the role of a bottom-six grinder — and Jack Drury — a high-level talent with a bright NHL future — are clogging up shooting lanes, laying out on the ice to block shots. Goaltenders Alex Lyon and Pyotr Kochetkov have been fantastic.

When the Wolves have needed goals, they’ve gotten them, whether it’s been from the leading playoff scorer, Josh Leivo, or from the somewhat unheralded Ivan Lodnia, who’s embraced his role as a player who won’t see the ice in every game and who has committed to making a difference when he gets out there.

Everything’s been going right for the Wolves. They just need one more game — on the AHL’s home turf, even — to seal the deal.

A large contingent of the Wolves players have apparently become obsessed with the new Top Gun movie, to the point that the song “Danger Zone” has made it into the team’s post-win playlist. (Full disclosure: I have also seen it three times and find no shame whatsoever in that.) So to a team on the cusp of winning it all, I offer them one piece of unsolicited advice: don’t think, just do.

Calder Cup Finals, Game 3: Wolves 4, Thunderbirds 0

Scoring: Jalen Chatfield, 1 G; Richard Panik, 1 G; Stefan Noesen, 1 G; Ivan Lodnia, 1 G; Josh Leivo, 2 A; Jack Drury, 2 A; Joey Keane, 1 A; Max Lajoie, 1 A; Vasili Ponomarev, 1 A

In net: Pyotr Kochetkov, saved 36 of 36, 1.000 sv%

Calder Cup Finals, Game 4: Wolves 4, Thunderbirds 2

Scoring: Josh Leivo, 1 G, 1 A; Andrew Poturalski, 1 G, 1 A; Richard Panik, 1 G; Jack Drury, 1 G; Stefan Noesen, 2 A

In net: Pyotr Kochetkov, saved 39 of 41, 0.951 sv%