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Saturday, May 24, 2008

4-2 win puts Wolves in finals; Home Ice & PP leading factors in wins

A 4-2 win Friday night at the Allstate Arena against the North Division champs, the Toronto Marlies, is sending the Chicago Wolves to the American Hockey League championship game. It will be the third time the Wolves have played in the AHL championship finals since joining the AHL in the 2001-2 season.

The series, won 4-1 by the Wolves, started with a pair of convincing wins by the Wolves at the Allstate Arena and a pounding of the Marlies at the Ricoh Center earlier this week. However, the Marlies came back to crush the Wolves in the second game at the Ricoh Center. Home ice advantage has been a key factor, in the wins in the league, as only the opponents of the Portland Pirates, seeded third in their division, have not been able to win the series.

Portland is still in the playoffs, the last Cinderella team. They are tied 3-3 in the Eastern Conference finals with the Wilkes-Barre/ Scranton Penguins. The winner of a game seven, tonight at the Wachovia Arena in Wilkes Barre, plays the Wolves next week starting Thursday.

The power play was a key feature, again, in the Wolves victory over the Marlies on Friday. Each Wolves goal, except the final empty net goal, was on a power play. Toronto has been unable in this series to effectively use its man advantages against the Wolves. The Marlies, in fact, were leading the game 2-0 at the end of the first frame. It seemed a dangerous tipping point in the game as the first goal has also been a deciding factor in many of the post season games played, according to NHL analysts.

The discipline of the Marlies began to breakdown midway through the second period. An elbowing call on Phil Oreskovic at 7:52 was followed by a hooking call on Buffalo Grove-native Andy Wozniwski at 9:12, giving the Wolves a 5:3 advantage. The Wolves used it to score twice within sixteen seconds.

Joel Kwiatkowski’s power play, which broke the dam, was his fourth in as many games. The Marlies were given ample opportunities to catch the Wolves, including a five minute major called for kneeing against Andre Deveaux at about the six minute mark of the third frame.

However it was another of those soft penalties that Toronto has not learned from, called against Alex Foster at 14:47 into the period that put the game out of reach for the Marlies. Darren Haydar, assisted by Kwiatkowski and Jason Krog lit the lamp for the game winner. Later, Kevin Doell, on a breakaway, potted the empty insurance goal with 42 seconds remaining on the clock.

The Chicago Wolves have won three league championships since their first campaign in 1993-4. Two Turner Cups were won under the old International Hockey League. In their first season with in the AHL the team won the Calder Cup championship. The Wolves returned to the Calder Cup finals, in the lockout season, when they lost to a Philadelphia Phantoms team loaded with players who are now in the NHL.

John Anderson, the Wolves coach for each of their championships, also won a Colonial Cup championship in the United Hockey League (now the International Hockey League) behind the bench for the Quad City Mallards.

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