Calder Cup Playoffs 2018: Wolves drop series opener to IceHogs

Penalties are not useful tools in the playoffs.

The Chicago Wolves had a rough start to the Calder Cup Playoffs, falling 2-1 to the Rockford IceHogs in Game 1. Chicago couldn’t get the offense going until the third period, and spent far too much time on the penalty kill.

While the refs called more penalties on the Wolves — including some rather suspect calls — the Wolves were putting themselves in a position to get those calls. Head coach Rocky Thompson acknowledged it, saying the Wolves were getting “emotional,” and when that happens in the playoffs, “you’re playing with fire.”

Taking those penalties is not something the Wolves can do over the course of the rest of this series, but if different officiating crews call a different game, then Chicago should be fine. The penalty killing unit managed to kill four of six penalties in a rather bad game, mainly because the kill got better as the game wore on.

The power play capitalized on one of their three full chances. Twice — both crucial opportunities — the officiating ended a Wolves power play prematurely because of calls that leaned a bit soft. No Rockford power plays were ended prematurely. It’s not like they were playing clean, either. Let that soak in.

Still, the lack of offense was the biggest takeaway from this game for the Wolves and coach Thompson. This goal by Teemu Pulkkinen was a beauty, but if you only score one goal, you’re likely not going to win a game in the AHL, no matter how well your goaltender played.

It’s why, despite great chances, the third line (Paul Thompson, Wade Megan, and Stefan Matteau) needs to start getting better opportunities. It’s why the first line (Brandon Pirri, T.J. Tynan, Tomas Hyka) needs to show up in Game 2, in a big way. Offense has been what has driven the Wolves’ success for the past five months, and its sudden absence is not acceptable.

Finally, Oscar Dansk, though on the losing side of the battle, played exceptionally well. He saved 27 of 29 shots, including all those against him at even strength. If Dansk continues to play this way, the Wolves have a series on their hands, especially if they manage to stay out of the box.

The best thing the Wolves can do right now is to burn the tape and start again fresh in Rockford.

The Wolves come back for more in Game 2. This is a best-of-five series, so the Wolves need to play at their best for the next three to four games.