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Saturday, April 08, 2006

Chicago 3, Peoria 2 4/7/06

Every Wolves game now seems to hold the entire season in the balance. As a set-up to a three-game series with Iowa that starts in Chicago tonight and ends Tuesday, there was a 50 mile per hour wind pushing our van down I-55 toward Peoria. The Carver Center, in downtown Peoria, has wonky seats and terrible glass. But the play on the ice has been exciting all year. My last visit there, in January, saw the Rivermen shoot down an anemic Aeros. Check back in the blog and you’ll see me predict then the Aeros decline from top dog in the West and the assent of the Admirals.

It was another must-win game for the Wolves. The set-up was that the Iowa Stars and the Omaha Ak-sar-ben Knights were tied at 80 points, with the last playoff spot in question. As the Knights and the Stars were playing each other, the Wolves had to win to stay just three points behind the Western 4th place team. On Thursday the PPPShow.net had said the Chicago Wolves, despite an eight game win streak, were finished.

And, it seems true. Any loss by the Wolves may doom their season, the Wolves behind by three points.

The local fans were pumped, a visit by the Hanson (Carlson) Brothers and winning hockey were having their way in the river city. And the Peoria team was in a bit of a race itself, hoping to catch the Aeros in their death spiral. It was a question of which team was hungrier. Gavin Morgan made the first mark for the Rivermen at 2.07 in the first.

The fans near us pounded on the glass and let us know we were finished. As the Rivermen came back on the ice it seemed as though they’d lost some discipline, marked by sin time for David Backes and Trevor Byrne, answered only by Ramzi Abid. This didn’t lead to a Wolves goal immediately, but Scott Barney did score finally at 14.39, ending the period tied.

A spirited hockey fight in the first started with D.J. King picking on Kevin Doell. As the shift ended, the Wolves sent out Francis Lessard who promptly dropped gloves with King. It wasn’t two old ladies at center ice, instead two bruisers, neither willing to fall, ended with linemen calling an end for the exhausted contenders.

An early second period power play goal for the Wolves by Justin Morrison at 0.51, put the score at 2-1 Wolves. This was followed by Ramzi Abid scoring another power play goal at 12.53. The Rivermen took 8 minutes in the penalty box in the second period to just 2 minutes for the Wolves. As noted in earlier posts, discipline is becoming a key to winning games as the post-season develops.

Four more penalty minutes in the third period sealed Peoria’s fate, as the Wolves held their sin bin time to just two minutes in the third. A final goal by Tomas Mojzis at 8.07 threatened the Wolves, but a 15.25 penalty by Brendan Buckley put the final nail in the coffin.

Peoria remains the unknown in the West. They have soft hot hands right now, despite their loss to the Wolves. They’ve had their way with the Aeros, as noted earlier. A series between Peoria and any of the teams in the playoff, could easily see the Rivermen the Western Division representative in the Calder race.

The Wolves, meanwhile, face Iowa in three games, Saturday, Sunday in Chicago and then Tuesday in Des Moines. Iowa has defeated Chicago in every game this year. Both teams are fighting for the final playoff spot. Iowa defeated Omaha in a shoot-out in the Friday night game and also has a game in hand against the Wolves. Clearly, the Wolves have to win every game against the Stars, to put them in a sufficient lead over whatever the game in hand both the Knights and the Stars results in. And, even with those wins, the Knights remain an unknown.

If the Wolves break their string of losses against the Stars tonight, it would be the second longest win streak in the franchise history.

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