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AHL Playoffs: Wolves Eliminate Admirals, Face IceHogs in Division Finals

Steve JankowskiAnalyst IDecember 9, 2016

Ondrej Pavelec stopped all 30 shots he saw, and two defenseman scored their first professional playoff goals to secure a 3-0 series-clinching victory for the Chicago Wolves over the Milwaukee Admirals at the Bradley Center.

Arturs Kulda scored his first goal as a professional in the first, and Boris Valabik scored Chicago's other two goals; the second into an empty net, to send Chicago to the West Division Finals.

There, the Wolves will face off with the Rockford IceHogs, in what should be an exciting matchup between two fierce rivals.

Geographic proximity alone makes this new rivalry intense, but other sub-plots add more spice to this already sizzling rivalry.

Rockford serves as the AHL affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks, and the Wolves and Hawks haven't exactly been on the best of terms with one another since the Wolves inception in 1994. 

Aside from that intriguing nugget, the Wolves and IceHogs have two of the best teams in the AHL.  Either one could capture the Calder Cup, but as it stands, only one can even lay claim to a West Division Playoffs title

In the season series, Chicago went 6-3-1-0 against Rockford, and were a perfect 5-0 in the Allstate Arena, site of Thurdsay night's Game 1.

Several of the games were chippy affairs, with the teams combining for 186 minutes of penalties in the teams' final regular season meeting on April 12.  Chicago alone had 89 penalty minutes in the third period of that game.

More of that can be expected in this best-of-seven series, but not the Wolves blowout home victories the Wolves recorded in the regular season.

Chicago recorded home wins of 7-1 and 8-3 during the regular season, but the playoffs have had a cooling effect on Chicago's offense.

In the regular season, the Wolves averaged 3.75 goals per game, tops in the AHL, but in the post-season, they have averaged only 2.67 goals per game, more than a goal less per game.

In the next round, the Wolves offense will have to deal with Rockford goalie Corey Crawford, who posted a 1.10 GAA and a .955 save percentage in the first round against the Houston Aeros.

On the other side, Chicago's Ondrej Pavelec got hot toward the end of the Milwaukee series, allowing only one goal in the final two games to clinch the series. 

Crawford will be Rockford's best hope to win against the Wolves.  He may have to steal a game or two as Pekka Rinne did for Milwaukee in the first round.

In the end, it could come down to special teams.  The regular season series was filled with penalties, and if Chicago's power play can get going, it could be a short series.

The Wolves penalty kill was stellar against the Admirals, and will have to be again when they face a potent Rockford power play.

Expect a tight-checking, low scoring series, that will no doubt get heated at times.  There will be plenty of extra-curricular activities after the whistle throughout, and whichever team can stay more disciplined could easily win the series and move on to the Western Conference finals.

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