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Saturday, May 05, 2007

Seesaw battle ends in 1st Playoff loss for Wolves

A seesaw game ended badly for the Chicago Wolves, who dropped their first playoff game in a 5-4 loss to the Iowa Stars at the Allstate Arena Friday night. The game saw six power play goals and a short-handed goal and a questionable palm goal. The best of seven series to determine which team advances from the Western Division to the Western Conference finals is now tied at one each.

Mark Popovic scored the first goal at 5.45 into the first period on a power play assisted by Jason Krog and Darren Haydar. The goal occurred with just seconds left in the power play as Haydar passed the puck over to Popovic. It was the sixth straight time the Wolves had started the scoring in the playoffs. However, Iowa was not going to be held back. At 10:04 on their own power play, Matt Niskanen worked the puck along the blue line, passing it to Konstantin Pushkarev, who passed it along to Chris Conner. Conner’s shot through traffic eluded Michael Garnett to tie the game. At 14.27 Paul Szczechura appeared to glove a puck in mid-air, and push it into the net.

However, Terry Koharski, the American Hockey League referee, was immediately behind the net, and adamantly signaled a power play goal for Iowa, giving them a 2-1 lead. Less than a minute later, Chicago’s top line was on the power play. A cross-ice pass from Darren Haydar found Brett Sterling who capitalized by lighting the lamp making the game 2-2. At the end of the period, with the score tied, the two teams were also even in shots on goal. Although Chicago had three power plays to Iowa’s four.

Dan Ellis, the Iowa goaltender, took a hooking penalty at 2.35 into the second period. Niskanen checked the puck loose on the penalty kill near the Iowa bench, then, broke free to face Michael Garnett alone. His fake worked perfectly and he backhanded the puck into the net behind Garnett for the 3-2 lead.

Thirty-two seconds later, Iowa received another penalty. Less than thirty seconds into it, Jason Krog, assisted by Haydar, tied the game at three each. At 9.48 Francis Wathier picked up the puck behind the Wolves net. He passed to Marius Holtet who wrested the shot past Garnett for a permanent Iowa lead.

Then Szczechura was credited with his second goal on a shot from the slot, making the game 5-3. In the last minute, Iowa was again on the penalty kill as the puck went into the corner. Haydar worked it out to Popovic, at the point, who fired the final goal of the game and the second period, making the score 5-4.

At the end of two periods, the two teams were again tied on shots on goal and Chicago had one more power play than Iowa, with three in the second frame to one for the Stars.

In the final period, Chicago had two additional power play opportunities, to one for the Stars. Despite at least three scoring opportunities, the Wolves entered the final minute of play short a goal from tying their guests. Even, pulling Garnett, in the final minute failed to dent the Iowa defense. In the final period, again, the two teams tied with seven shots on goal each.

“I did not expect them to lie down after game one,” Wolves coach John Anderson said, “that said, we had four or five point blank chances to tie the game.”

Garnett earned the loss, stopping 26 shots on goal. Ellis earned the win, stopping 27 shots. Rookie Szczechura has scored three goals in the playoffs so far. Sterling’s goal was his fourth of the playoff season. Popovic’s two goals were his first and second of the playoffs.

The series moves to the Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Iowa for three games, Sunday afternoon being game three.

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