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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Chicago in unaccustomed position: leads playoffs 2-0 over Admirals

For the first time all season, the Chicago Wolves won a game at home against the Milwaukee Admirals. In fact, they won two in the American Hockey League Western Division Semifinals this weekend at the Allstate Arena.

A dominating Wolves came out to play Friday night in game one. Allowing just six Milwaukee shots on goal in their first period, the Wolves defense stepped up and so did goaltender Michael Garnett, who turned aside all the Milwaukee attempts in the period.

The Wolves, who have struggled since before the New Year, but have one of the best regular season records for offense based on the first two and half months of the season, brought the first rubber to the net with just one minute, 27 seconds on the clock when the first shift, under Andy Delmore brought a puck across the center circle into the Admirals zone and fired from the far boards. Brett Sterling was playing just outside the net and rebounded it in for his first goal of the night and in his playoff record.

A little under eleven minutes later Admiral’s goaltender Pekka Rinne went behind his net to play a puck to the far boards where Sheldon Brookbank was waiting. He was checked by Andre Deveaux and coughed up the puck to Colin Stuart. The puck was chipped into the corner then found its way to the slot where it was backhanded by Kevin Doell through traffic to light the lamp.

With the score 2-0, the Admirals and the Wolves went after each other more physically in the second period. At 8.37 into the period, it came to a head when a scrum in front of the Wolves goal left three players on the ice. As Milwaukee’s Chris Durno got up to leave, his skate hooked on Garnett’s leg and Garnett fell, earning a diving penalty. Boris Valabik picked Durno up and shook him like dog shakes a rabbit. But Durno refused to drop his gloves, hoping to draw a penalty from Valabik. Valabik didn’t punch Durno, but continued to shake him and received a double minor, while Brookbank and Durno each received minors. The penalties led to a 5-3 power play by the Admirals in which many of the nine shots on goal for the period were registered. Yet, Garnett held on.

At 14.03 Chicago’s first line got a power play opportunity that it was able to score on with Sterling getting his second goal of the night with assists by Jason Krog and Darren Haydar.

Early in the third period, Milwaukee finally replied when Cal O’Reilly was fed the puck from the opposing circle. He caught Garnett flat footed and the pipes undefended for one of the most beautiful scores of the season. Minutes later, Rich Peverly broke away to the Chicago net, Chicago’s Delmore was in hot pursuit. As they passed through the hash marks Delmore reached around Peverly and caused Peverly to go crashing into the ice and the boards. Peverly was awarded a penalty shot by referee Brian Pochmara, which he lifted over Garnett’s shoulder and into the net for the final goal.

Garnett stopped just 22 Admirals shots in a game that saw the Admirals almost win with just 20 minutes of effort. The loss went to Rinne who stopped 30 shots. The only power play was scored by Chicago’s Sterling in the second period. The Wolves were one for nine on the power play. The Admirals were zero for six.

Milwaukee suffered from lack of discipline in the loss, although the Wolves were unable to convert more power plays into goals, the multiple penalties gave the Wolves a chance to rest compared to the Admirals.

Sunday afternoon’s game was a replay. Garnett started in the pipes again, as did Rinne. As on Friday, the Admirals failed to put many shots on goal in the first, five shots, and second, eight shots, periods. Although the Admirals were more disciplined, taking just ten minutes of penalties and affording Chicago five power plays, to the six minutes of penalties and three power plays given up by the Wolves, the die seemed cast already.

Haydar made a two on one break-away just six minutes into the game. Moving quickly through the near circle, Haydar held the puck as an Admiral cut off his cross ice pass. However the defensive move caused Rinne to become tangled as the blue liner slid into the goal. Haydar waited till Rinne was completely immersed in arms and legs, firing it in for the goal. Five minutes later Matt Anderson, a rookie from the University of Massachusetts- Amherst got his first professional goal. The Wolves were working the puck around, firing everything they could at Rinne when Anderson picked up a rebound outside the crease and put it through. Anderson was signed to an Amateur Tryout by the Wolves late in March. The game was his first appearance with the Wolves. The goal occurred on his second shift.

In the second period, Durno put one behind Garnett which somehow avoided crossing the goal line. Moments later, Haydar picked up a puck near center ice and crossed to the near circle, where he fed Sterling on the opposite circle. Sterling wristed it in for a goal.

In the final period of play the Admirals put more shots on goal than in the rest of the game combined. They held the Wolves to just four shots in the period. The strategy of putting the puck at the net paid off for the Admirals when Jason Guerriero and Peverly got a two on zero break away, easily beating Garnett to make the score 3-1. Rinne was recalled to the bench with a little over two minutes to play. With a six on five advantage, Garnett was under pressure, yet several shots at the empty Admirals net did not persuade the Admirals to take greater care of the puck. Finally, Cory Larose caught a puck that bounced loose of a check at center ice, and skating alone into the Admirals zone, he made an empty net goal, finishing the Admirals 4-1.

Garnett stopped 29 shots for the win. Rinne stopped 20 shots for the loss. Leading the best of seven playoff series now 2-0, play moves to the Milwaukee Bradley Center for two mid-week games.

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