ROSEMONT, Ill. – In a chippy game that featured 52 combined penalty minutes and 14 power play opportunities, the Chicago Wolves built upon an early 3-0 lead to take a 7-3 victory over the Grand Rapids Griffins on Friday, knotting the Central Division Finals at one game apiece.
The Griffins, whose split at Allstate Arena wrestled home-ice advantage away from the division champions, will now host the next two games of this best-of-seven series, including Game 3 on Saturday and Game 4 on Monday. Both will begin at 7 p.m.
After the Griffins scored 40 seconds into Game 1 on Wednesday it was the Wolves’ turn to strike in the opening minutes, largely to the credit of Alex Friesen. He sped down the right boards with the puck, fought through Dan Renouf’s attempt to rub him out along the half-wall and angled into the circle before centering a pass to Petteri Lindbohm for a backdoor goal into a gaping net at the 3:10 mark.
Chicago made it 2-0 at 9:44, taking advantage of the Griffins’ inability to clear the puck from their slot. Ty Loney eventually put a shot on Jared Coreau from the left side that was denied, but veteran Brett Sterling – the lone holdover from the Wolves’ last championship team in 2008 – batted the rebound past the diving netminder to hand Grand Rapids its first two-goal deficit of the postseason.
Jake Walman added a power play goal at 19:21, sniping a shot over Coreau’s right shoulder from the left circle to give Chicago as many goals in a single period as the Griffins had allowed in any game so far during these playoffs.
Grand Rapids dented Ville Husso 8:37 into the second period to pull within two at 3-1. After Mitch Callahan threw the puck toward the net, it ticked off the stick of Eric Tangradi in the slot and was gobbled up on the doorstep by Kyle Criscuolo, who quickly stuffed it between Husso’s pad and the right post.
As time wound down in both the period and the Griffins’ fourth power play of the night, Evgeny Svechnikov scored to make it a one-goal game. From the left goal line, Tyler Bertuzzi lasered a pass to Svechnikov in the high slot, and the rookie blew a shot past Husso with seven seconds left in the man-advantage and 15 remaining in the period.
But the third period would see the Wolves outscore the Griffins 4-1, as Chicago tallied three goals in the final eight minutes to turn a tight 4-3 game into a rout. The Wolves reestablished their two-goal cushion at 3:49 off a turnover behind the Griffins’ net, as Mackenzie MacEachern jammed the puck past Coreau for a 4-2 Chicago lead.
Grand Rapids refused to go away, converting just four seconds into another power play at the 8:45 mark. Off a faceoff in the Chicago zone, Matt Lorito blistered a one-timer from above the right circle that hit the pipe on its way into the cage.
A series of skirmishes broke out over the next two minutes, the second of which saw only Martin Frk whistled off for goaltender interference and resulted in a Chicago power play with just under 10 minutes remaining. The Wolves capitalized to push their advantage to 5-3 at the 12:01 mark, when Coreau was unable to squeeze Tage Thompson’s wrister from between the circles.
The Griffins continued to battle and received their final power play of the night with 6:12 remaining, but it would soon turn disastrous. Coreau wandered to the left of his net to play a puck that Chicago had cleared down the ice, and he sent an ill-advised pass up the middle that was picked off by Andrew Agozzino above the circles and whipped into the net as Coreau desperately dove back to try to keep it out.
Following that shorthanded, unassisted goal, the Wolves added the nightcap during a 5-on-3 advantage at 17:31, with Vince Dunn scoring from the left circle. Chicago finished 3 for 7 on the power play while Grand Rapids converted 2 of its 7 attempts.
Coreau suffered his first loss of the postseason following four consecutive wins, stopping 24 shots. Husso earned the victory behind 28 saves.
Notes: Bertuzzi's assist gave him 27 career playoff points, tying him with Jeff Hoggan for fourth place on the franchise's all-time list...The Griffins own a 6-4 record in best-of-seven series that were tied 1-1...Five of Chicago’s goal-scorers lit the lamp for the first time in the postseason.
Three Stars: 1. CHI MacEachern (game-winning goal, assist); 2. CHI Thompson (power play goal, assist); 3. CHI Dunn (power play goal, assist)