After a successful sweep of the Rockford IceHogs less than a week ago, the Wolves looked to continue their strong play when they welcomed the Grand Rapids Griffins to town on Thursday afternoon. The major storyline entering Thursday's game was the Wolves debut of Petr Mrazek. Yes, the Carolina Hurricanes' starting netminder was assigned to the Wolves for a rehab start to test his left hand, which left him sidelined for nearly eight weeks.
With Mrazek in net, the Wolves were primed to take on the Griffins in a Thursday matinee at Triphahn Ice Arena in Hoffman Estates.
The game began with the Wolves tallying the first shot on net. However, despite the first shot being in favor of the Wolves, the Griffins drew first blood. On Grand Rapids' first shot of the game, Turner Elson buried a massive rebound off a Tory Dello shot to give the visitors the early lead.
Just after the seven-minute mark, the Wolves received the first power play of the game thanks to an Elson high-sticking penalty. Although the Wolves couldn't capitalize on the man advantage, the Wolves scored roughly twenty seconds after the penalty expired.
Luke Evangelista, who entered Thursday playing only one career AHL game, set up Frederic Allard for his second goal of the season. Allard was just returned to the Wolves before Thursday's game. Drew Shore also picked up an assist on the play.
Under a minute later, the Wolves scored yet again, this time on the power play. After a Riley Barber goaltender interference penalty, the Wolves wasted little time scoring. After a face-off win from Sean Malone, David Warsofsky was set up by Philip Tomasino for his second goal of the season. In a span of one minute, the Wolves took control of the game.
The Griffins responded well to losing the lead, outshooting the Wolves 5-1 the remainder of the period. However, Petr Mrazek stood tall and looked good in his first game back in quite some time.
Although the teams' shot totals were tied, the Wolves happily took their one-goal lead into the first intermission.
The second period did not feature any scoring. Instead, it was the Petr Mrazek show. Mrazek was magical during the second period, stopping every shot he faced in the middle frame.
The Grand Rapids Griffins completely dominated the second period, outshooting the Wolves 23-8 in the middle frame. Yes, the Griffins had 23 shots in the period.
The Wolves committed two penalties in the period. Chicago killed off a David Warsofsky tripping penalty at the 3:04 mark and later saw Tanner Jeannot take a hooking penalty at the 18:51 mark.
The Wolves entered the second intermission being outshot 31-16, but thanks to Mrazek's 30 saves, the Wolves maintained the lead.
The lack of scoring did not carry over to the third period on Thursday. Just 1:48 into the period, Tanner Jeannot scored yet again, tallying his eighth of the season with help from Philip Tomasino and David Warsofsky.
The Griffins refused to go away quietly. Just under three minutes after Jeannot's tally, Riley Barber brought the Griffins within one on a pretty shot. Taro Hirose set up Barber perfectly cross-ice, forcing Mrazek to quickly slide across his crease. Unfortunately, Mrazek couldn't get there in time and the Griffins had life.
Teams exchanged chances throughout the period, but it was the Wolves who took control. Just after a power play ended for the Wolves, Cavan Fitzgerald fed Anthony Richard with plenty of space. Richard skated toward the slot and fired home his fourth goal of the season to extend the Wolves lead to two once again.
Richard tallied yet again in this game, this time via the empty net variety. Richard's fifth of the season put the nail in the coffin and secured a 5-2 victory for the Wolves.
The game's first star, Petr Mrazek, set an AHL career-high for saves in a game.
The Wolves won their fifth-straight game on Thursday, but the win capped off a unique winning streak. With Mrazek picking up the victory, the Wolves won five games in a row with five different goaltenders.
It's quite an impressive streak that the Wolves have put together. That said, head coach Ryan Warsofsky feels like it's not only a testament to the goaltenders, but also a testament to the team's system.
"We need to play as a five-man unit on the ice, [it] doesn't really matter who are goaltender is and that's not a shot at anyone, that's just the way we have to play each and every night."
Warsofsky has not wavered from his team message all season. He expects his players to play hard, focus on the details, and get the job done at the end of the day. He doesn't care who is stepping up or who is playing what role, as long as the entire team is playing as one well-oiled machine.
Warsofsky also mentioned how Mrazek affected his team's effort and play on Thursday. "We thought we had Petr down here and he was our savior, and he was just going to stop 50 tonight, and we were going to ride off into the sunset" Warsofsky said. "We got a big dose of reality there. That just creates bad habits."
Warsofsky continued on his point by mentioning getting back to simplicity and having a better team effort. Thursday's game, despite the win, will be a teaching point for the coaching staff.
Petr Mrazek was sensational in his first game since injuring his catching hand. The Hurricanes were also pretty pleased, recalling Mrazek early Friday morning after his big win.
Mrazek had not played in eight weeks leading up to Thursday. That said, he was happy to get back out there. "It's been eight weeks since I played a game, so I was really happy I could see action and see the puck through traffic. It was positive."
Mrazek joked he enjoys the afternoon games, especially since they don't have many of them in the NHL. For Mrazek however, the biggest adjustment to Thursday's game was traffic in front of the net.
"It's always been a lot of pucks to the net, [and] a lot of traffic", noted Mrazek when asked about the AHL style of play. "In the NHL it's a little less traffic. Here everyone puts the puck on the [defense] and crash the net and try to create rebounds and chaos in front of the net."
In all, Mrazek felt like it was a successful start. With the Carolina Hurricanes in Chicago facing the Blackhawks anyway, it made sense for Mrazek to see action after practicing with the team in Chicago. Overall, the idea looked like a success and the Hurricanes have their starting goaltender back on the roster.
The Wolves weren't necessarily the better team on Thursday, but they willed themselves to a victory behind timely scoring and incredible goaltending.
What's On Tap Next?
The Wolves are back in action at home again on Saturday, April 3 as they play host to the Rockford IceHogs. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:00 PM CDT on Saturday night from Triphahn Ice Arena.