The Chicago Wolves clinched the 16th postseason berth in their 20-year history with a 4-1 victory over the Milwaukee Admirals on Saturday night before 10,126 at Allstate Arena.
Left wing Derek Nesbitt's power-play goal at 3:55 of the third period proved to be the game-winner for the Wolves, who also received an early goal from defenseman Jani Hakanpaa and empty-net goals from forwards Alexandre Bolduc and Adam Cracknell. Jake Allen stopped 24 of 25 shots to earn his AHL-leading 30th win of the season.
The Wolves (40-20-5-4) also clinched the Amtrak Rivalry trophy as they have won seven of their 10 meetings with the Admirals (34-23-6-7). Every game had been decided by 1 goal until this one.
"It's a little bit of a breather (to clinch), but it's an unfinished task," said Wolves coach John Anderson. "It's exhausting, believe me. I'm glad we hooked it up tonight and we got our win and we're in the playoffs. Now we're trying to run down first place (in the Midwest Division)."
Hakanpaa gave the Wolves a 1-0 lead 2:06 into the game on a wrister from the right circle that eluded Milwaukee goaltender Scott Darling. Sergey Andronov fought to win the puck along the near boards and got it to Pat Cannone working along the goal line to Darling's right. Cannone delivered a cross-ice pass to Hakanpaa for his fourth goal of the year.
Milwaukee pulled even on Joonas Rask's goal at 7:49 of the second. Scott Valentine banged a pass off the boards in the Milwaukee zone that Rask claimed just outside Allen's crease and stuffed it in the net.
The Wolves regained a 1-goal edge at 3:55 of the third on Nesbitt's goal. He set up at the top of the right circle, accepted a pass from Ty Rattie and rifled a blast that Darling appeared to stop, but the puck trickled between his legs and across the goal line for Nesbitt's first goal with the Wolves. Brent Regner also assisted on the game-winner.
Bolduc hustled for his unassisted empty-net goal at 18:39 and Cracknell earned his at 19:06 with assists from Keith Aucoin and Brett Ponich.
Allen (30-16-3) allowed 1 goal in 105 minutes against Milwaukee this week and has 6 wins over the Admirals this year. Darling (12-5-2) rejected 22 of 24 shots in the loss.
The Wolves wrap up their homestand with a 3 p.m. game today against Iowa at Allstate Arena.