This isn’t how the Chicago Wolves envisioned it.
After bringing the Calder Cup Final against the Charlotte Checkers back to Allstate Arena tied 1-1, the Wolves likely expected they’d be able to get a win or two at home. But that’s not exactly how it’s going.
On the second night of a back-to-back, the Wolves lost Game 4 on Thursday by a score of 5-3. Despite getting two leads in the game, the Wolves were unable to put the game away.
After finally starting the game right when Nic Hague scored just 45 seconds into the game, this was not how the game was supposed to go. The Wolves, aside from an errant goal by Jesper Sellgren that Oscar Dansk was unable to track, dominated the first period, adding to the Hague goal with a strike from Zac Leslie at 16:29 in the first.
In the second, while Chicago allowed more shots from the Checkers, they remained on top with another goal from Brooks Macek, his second in two nights. Then, things unraveled due to a controversial call against Hague, who went to the box for tripping. It wasn’t the only controversial moment for the game’s referees, who swallowed their whistles in the third period and heard about it from the Chicago fans.
“I thought we gave ourselves the opportunity to win,” Wolves coach Rocky Thompson said. “We made some mistakes and it didn’t work out. Some things were out of our control that I don’t agree with that led to those mistakes as well.”
After Martin Necas scored on the power play for Charlotte, they scored 32 seconds into the third to even things at 3-3. The Wolves never got another lead in the game, though they were able to control much of the rest of the third period.
“We took control back in the game,” Thompson said, “it was a tough two or three minutes after that first goal in the third, but then we swung it back in our favor and got back to work and played the way we played.”
The Wolves again were able to control the puck throughout much of the game against the Checkers, but were on the wrong end of the scoreboard. Part of that was the goaltending performance by Dustin Tokarski, coming in in relief of Checkers goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic during the second game of the back-to-back and getting his second win of this series. Tokarski made 22 saves on 25 shots, including going 9-for-9 in the third period.
“I thought Tokarski was good,” Checkers coach Mike Vellucci said. “He’s 12-0 for us. He’s one of those great guys, unbelievable leader. Did I think about going with Nedeljkovic, of course, Nedeljkovic played really well, but it doesn’t matter, it’s back to back games. The numbers speak for themselves. Tokarski did the job once again, and back to back, we’re going to continue to do that.”
The Wolves’ power play remained inept throughout the game, failing to score despite four opportunities. The Wolves are now 1-for-12 on the power play in this series, and while losing Daniel Carr headed into this game didn’t help things, the Wolves haven’t had a threatening power play in either of their last two series. Something has to change.
“Our power play has to do a lot better and our penalty kill could have done a better job at the end,” Thompson said.
Dansk himself has not looked up to the task that facing off against Nedeljkovic and Tokarski would require. In Game 3, Dansk allowed four goals on 26 shots and in Game 4 he allowed four in 23.
“I thought the guys played good enough for us to win,” Dansk said. “And I don’t think I played well enough. I have to stop pucks and I don’t think I’ve done that enough to give our team a chance. Going forward, there’s no choice but to be better.”
The good news is, the Wolves scored more than one goal in Game 4, something they were unable to accomplish in Game 3. A large part of that is that the Wolves practiced what they preached after Game 3 — getting shots from the point and getting bodies in front of the net and in front of Tokarski to remove his eyes.
“You look at the goals we scored, we were going to the net, we found rebounds and especially on Leslie’s goal, we had good traffic in front of the net and it goes in,” Thompson said. “I was happy with that 5-on-5, we can always do a better job of that in certain situations but it was better and that’s gotta continue.”
The Wolves are now on the brink of elimination, despite having played two really good games in their last two outings. They’ll need to take each of the next three games, including two in Charlotte, and Nedeljkovic will draw back in on Saturday, having had more rest. The Wolves were able to beat him in Game 1 of this series, however, and they aren’t giving up hope.
“It’s a really special group we have in this room,” Wolves forward Curtis McKenzie said. “And if we win a game, we get to play another one. I think that’s what we’re looking for, the chance to play another game with each other.”
The Wolves will play a must-win Game 5 at Allstate Arena in Chicago on Saturday.