The Vegas Golden Knights’ season ended April 23. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t relevant hockey still being played. The Chicago Wolves just advanced to the AHL’s Western Conference Final, where they’ll face the AHL affiliate of the Anaheim Ducks, the San Diego Gulls.
There’s been a variety of factors that led to the Wolves getting to this point. Last season, the Wolves were swept in the first round by the Rockford Ice Hogs after Oscar Dansk struggled in the first two games of the series. The Wolves couldn’t rebound, and they went home early.
Those factors have changed this season. After those same early struggles, Dansk has managed to bounce back, owning a .918 save percentage since then. He’s been one of the constants for the Wolves, and even in their two Round 2 losses to the Iowa Wild, Dansk allowed just two goals against in each game.
Part of this has been a result of better defense this season. The Wolves have allowed more than 30 shots against just three times through these playoffs, and not since the first round. Against Iowa, the Wolves averaged just 24.5 shots against per game, averaging 29 shots for. The Wolves had the second-best penalty kill in the Central Division in the playoffs — a 79.3 percent success rate. Their power play is third-best in the entire Western Conference, scoring on 21.4 percent of their opportunities.
The Wolves’ veteran leadership has come up big to lead the team in scoring. Tye McGinn, Curtis McKenzie and Tomas Hyka are all in the top 15 in scoring through the second round of the playoffs with eight points. Cody Glass, Vegas’ No. 8 overall pick from the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, is not far behind with seven points, and Daniel Carr is tied with him. T.J. Tynan, Zach Whitecloud and Nicolas Hague follow with six each.
In addition, Keegan Kolesar, who missed Game 6, secured the series win against the Grand Rapids Griffins, the Wolves’ first round opponent. He is tied for second on the team with four goals, the same amount as Glass, one behind McKenzie.
Carr, who won the AHL MVP in the regular season but was out of action until the first game of the second round, had seven points in that round.
This Chicago team is built to go far, with superior veteran leadership, great youth in guys like Kolesar, Glass and Hague and the ability to play well on both sides of the puck. Still, coming up against the San Diego Gulls, who have the hottest power play in the playoffs and whose goaltender, Jeff Glass, has been the best in the Western Conference through the postseason, will be a challenge.
But it may be one the Wolves can overcome.