As of Dec. 23, the Chicago Wolves were tied for 10th in the West after numerous two-game weeks put them with considerable games in hand against the rest of the conference. They had been playing well, but a tough week ahead had the potential to slow the momentum. Let's see how they did.
Thursday, Dec. 27: Chicago @ Rockford
The Wolves were up against the rival Rockford IceHogs (Chicago Blackhawks' farm team) again on Thursday. It was the sixth meeting of the season between the two teams, and Chicago had been victorious four of the five times previously.
Andrew Ebbett opened the scoring early in the first, but Rob Flick answered just over two minutes later. Chicago and Rockford exchanged power-play goals in the second period before Martin St. Pierre scored to give Rockford the lead with two minutes remaining in the frame. Both goalies were perfect in the third, as the IceHogs took the game 3-2 with their second victory over the Wolves of the season.
Despite the loss, Matt Climie had another solid performance, saving 36 of 39 shots. Zack Kassian and Andrew Ebbett picked up points on both Chicago goals, with Ebbett's strong play earning him the third star of the game.
Saturday, Dec. 29: Abbotsford @ Chicago
Saturday evening was the first of back-to-back home games against the Abbotsford Heat (Calgary Flames' farm team). The Heat are one of the best teams in the league this season, going into this game with a 15-8-3-3 record.
Defensive strategy and sound goaltending controlled the first, limiting the total shots to 12 and keeping the game scoreless. Near the midway point of the second, Ben Street of Abbotsford opened the scoring with his seventh of the season, with Krys Kolanos extending the lead just two minutes later. Darren Archibald combined with Zack Kassian to cut the lead in half with four minutes remaining in the period. Chicago's Zach Miskovic tied the game 12 minutes into the third, but Paul Byron of Abbotsford answered just 24 seconds later. Byron's tally proved to be the game winner, as the Heat handed the Wolves their third straight loss.
Matt Climie let in three goals on 27 shots, as he lost his third straight game. His save percentage dipped below .900 for the first time in 11 games and over two months. In the absence of Eddie Lack, the Wolves will need him to have a strong recovery. Archibald was awarded the third star of the game, while Vancouver Canucks former first-rounder Jordan Schroeder tallied two assists in the bout.
Sunday, Dec. 30: Abbotsford @ Chicago
Sunday afternoon, the Wolves set out for revenge against Abbotsford as they completed the weekend series. Goaltender Joe Cannata had his first start of the season, as the Wolves' coach Scott Arniel gave Climie a much needed night off after 11 consecutive starts.
Abbotsford struck early, with a short-handed marker from Roman Horak. Paul Byron and Andrew Ebbett exchanged power-play goals later in the first, sending the Wolves to the dressing room down 2-1. Schroeder tied it up 10 minutes into the second with a goal from Brett Sterling and Miskovic.
Less than a minute into the final period, Darren Haydar gave Chicago the lead with his fourth of the season on the power-play. His marker ended up being the game winner for the Wolves, as they completed the comeback to tie the weekend series one a piece. With the split, the Wolves now lead the season series between the two, with a 3-2-0 record.
The third star of the game was awarded to Schroeder for his game tying goal. The second went to Ebbett, who picked up an assist on the game winner in addition to scoring Chicago's first goal. The first star went to AHL veteran and Wolves' captain Darren Haydar, who assisted on Ebbett's opening marker on top of his game winner.
With the two points, Haydar moved up to 19th all-time in AHL scoring with 745. After allowing goals on Abbotsford's only two shots of the first, Joe Cannata kept his head in the game, shutting out the Heat in the final two periods; the Wolves' defense can be credited for that as well, as they held their opponents to just 16 shots in the game.
With just two of a possible six points, Chicago fell to 12th in the conference. They are still just four points behind a playoff spot with games in hand against almost every team in the league.
The Wolves have the next three days off before facing the Milwaukee Admirals Thursday. They'll play two home games again next weekend as they welcome the Grand Rapids Griffins and Oklahoma City Barons.
Milwaukee (Nashville Predators' farm team) currently sits 11th in the West, just one point ahead of Chicago. Grand Rapids (Detroit Red Wings' farm team) leads their division to sit in third place, despite being tied with the eighth-seeded IceHogs. Oklahoma City (Edmonton Oilers' farm team) sits in seventh (tied with Grand Rapids and Rockford), despite the plethora of NHL stars and the league's two leading scorers on the roster.
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