Over the weekend, the Chicago Wolves racked up three very important wins. After once being tied with the Iowa Wild for the top spot in the Central Division, the Wolves now find themselves all alone in first place. The sweep of the team's second three-in-three over the weekend surely helps that cause.
There is still plenty of hockey to be played. However, with an 11-4-1-1 record through 17 games, the team is in a prime position to chase a Calder Cup in 2021-22.
Let's review the Wolves' three wins from this past weekend.
Friday, November 26: Wolves 5, Griffins 3
On Friday, the Wolves traveled to Grand Rapids yet again for a date with the Griffins. However, the first two periods did not favor the Wolves, perhaps suggesting a Thanksgiving holiday hangover. Goals from Jared McIsaac and Kyle Criscuolo in the first period, and an additional marker from McIsaac in the second, set up a 3-0 defecit entering the third period.
However, the craziest of comebacks unfolded in neighboring Michigan. The Wolves scored five unanswered goals en route to a 5-3 win over their division foe. Josh Leivo ignited the scoring 1:29 into the period, and Maxim Letunov followed suit less than a minute later. That said, entering the waning minutes of the third, the Wolves were still down one.
At the 18:24 mark, Spencer Smallman's second of the season tied the game. Before the Wolves and their fans could calm their excitement, the Wolves struck again. This time, C.J. Smith scored at 18:36 to give the Wolves the lead for good. Captain Andrew Poturalski added the empty net goal for his eighth of the season to seal the win.
The Wolves have owned the Griffins this season. In fact, the Wolves have yet to lose to Grand Rapids in 2021-22. That continued later in the weekend too.
Saturday, November 27: Wolves 3, IceHogs 2 (SO)
Around 24 hours after the Wolves' comeback win in Grand Rapids, Chicago returned to Allstate Arena to host their Illinois foe, the Rockford IceHogs. The IceHogs entering Saturday's game have found a lot of success against the Wolves this season. However, no matter which way the game unfolded, it was going to be a battle.
Unlike Friday, the Wolves struck first on Saturday night. On the power play, Maxim Letunov tallied his fifth goal of the season and second in as many games over the weekend. Letunov continues to provide excellent depth scoring, and gave the Wolves the early lead.
Unfortunately, two IceHogs goals in the first 5:11 of the middle frame gave the visitors their first lead. Entering the third period, the Wolves found themselves in the same situation as they did on Friday. After the Issak Phillips and Jakub Galvas markers for Rockford, the Wolves needed some more comeback magic.
At the 14:41 mark of the third, the Wolves received that aforementioned magic. C.J. Smith scored for the sixth time this season to tie the game. Andrew Poturalski continued his torrid pace, which currently has him one point behind Jack Quinn in Rochester for the AHL lead, as he picked up his 14th assist.
The overtime period was not enough to determine a winner, so the teams entered the shootout to anoint a victor. The shootout required all six shooters, and the last shooter, Josh Leivo, won the game for the Wolves. After Eetu Maikniemi started in Grand Rapids, it was Alex Lyonstopping all three shootout attempts to capture the victory.
Sunday, November 28: Wolves 3, Griffins 1
To close out the second three-games-in-three-days for the Wolves, the Griffins ventured to Rosemont on Sunday afternoon. After the tough loss to the Wolves on Friday night after leading by three, the Griffins certainly wanted revenge on the division's top team.
Unlike the prior two games, the Wolves jumped out to a big lead from the start. Poturalski's ninth of the season in the first period, and goals from Leivo and Stefan Noesen in the second, gave Chicago the 3-0 lead entering the third period. Although Makiniemi lost his shutout in the final frame, the goalie picked up his seventh win of the season as the Wolves took down the Griffins 3-1.
The Wolves proved this weekend that they're a team to be reckoned with. Although the IceHogs and Marlies have had some success against the Wolves this season, the team continues to look like a true contender for the league's title. In fact, only three teams in the entire league have more wins than the Wolves, although a handful of others also have 11 wins.
The Wolves' weekend was a huge step in the right direction. Three games in three days is tough, and if a team is on the wrong end of a stretch like that, it can be detrimental. However, the Wolves stepped up and took all six possible points over the weekend.
Obviously in the AHL it's all about win percentage, but as of now the Wolves' .706 winning percentage looks really good atop the Central Division. Now, the Wolves are in a perfect position to continue their winning ways.
Once again, the team's goaltending and scoring have been top notch for the team this season. The team's top line (Poturalski, Smith, Noesen) has been one of the best in hockey. In addition, the team is receiving sufficient depth scoring from the likes of Leivo, Letunov, David Gust, and Jack Drury, among others. This team is built for a very fun run this season, assuming injuries and call-ups don't derail their depth.
What's On Tap Next?
The Wolves are back in action at Allstate Arena on Thursday, December 2. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. CST against the Iowa Wild. Following Thursday's game, the Wolves travel to Iowa for two games in Des Moines before venturing to Texas for three games on the road with the Stars. Chicago returns home on December 16 against the Manitoba Moose.