As the Chicago Wolves continue their quest to the Calder Cup Final, things appear to be going well for the Carolina Hurricanes' affiliate. After two games in the Western Conference finals, the Wolves lead the Stockton Heat (Calgary) 2-0 in the series heading to the west coast.
In games one and two, late-game heroics were the key to a pair of Wolves victories. In game one, Jamieson Rees played hero while Josh Leivo took the role over in game two.
The opening game of the Western Conference finals was everything a playoff game should be. After each of the first three frames, both teams were deadlocked. After the first period, goals from Josh Leivo for Chicago and Luke Philp for Stockton evened the score at one. In the second, Stockton markers from Walker Duehr and Eetu Tuulola gave the Heat an early 3-1 lead. However, the Wolves stormed back with tallies from Jalen Chatfield and Josh Leivo to tie the game in the middle third of the period.
Neither team was able to pull away from the other. In the third period, AHL regular season leading goal scorer Stefan Noesen gave the Wolves a momentary lead. After tallying at the 10:26 mark, Stockton once again tied the game just 59 seconds later on Connor Zary's first of the playoffs.
In overtime, the Wolves gained possession in Stockton's zone. After Jalen Chatfield skated from low to high, he found Richard Panik near the blue line. Panik sent a shot toward the net and the puck hit traffic in front of Heat goaltender Dustin Wolf. The puck hit a few bodies, and ultimately Jamieson Rees was able to pot the goal to give the Wolves the series lead.
Naturally, game two required late-game fireworks to determine a winner. Jack Drury started the game off with his sixth goal of the playoffs just 17 seconds into the game. However, Stockton struck back with goals from Eetu Tuulola in the first and Justin Kirkland in the second to take the lead, 2-1.
Despite the Heat taking the lead, the Wolves never quit. Noel Gunler picked up his first of the playoff campaign on the power play in the middle frame to tie the game. Just like game one, game two came down to the wire. This time, Josh Leivo was the hero, scoring with 18 seconds left in the third period to secure the Wolves 3-2 victory.
Two things have stood out in the early going of this series. For starters, the Wolves have incredible goaltenders. Alex Lyon picked up the win in the first game with a 24-save performance. However, the second game was a gem for Pyotr Kotchetkov, who returned to the Wolves after the Hurricanes were eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs. His 33-save performance in a game where the Wolves were outshot is truly spectacular.
In addition, this team does not quit. If there is one thing a championship caliber team can do, it is fight back when things aren't going well. In the Wolves' case, they have done that all playoffs and continue to make their case for the Calder Cup. Head coach Ryan Warsofsky has the team believing in themselves and his ability as a leader will eventually lead him to the NHL.
What's On Tap Next?
The Wolves are in Stockton on Wednesday for game three of the series. This latest trip is the first time the Wolves have been in California since the 2019 Western Conference finals when they ultimately defeated the San Diego Gulls. On that specific trip, Max Legace was credited with a goal in that series after an errant pass from a Gulls' defender.
The last trip to the west coast was a success for the Wolves. Naturally, the team is hoping for similar results this time around. Wednesday's puck drop is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. CDT. You can catch the action on AHL TV.