Rookie Jake Walman netted his first professional goal that stood as the game-winner, and first-year netminder Ville Husso made 36 saves to push the Chicago Wolves to a 5-3 victory over the Charlotte Checkers on Sunday night at Allstate Arena.
Three rookies -- Vince Dunn, Bryce Gervais and Walman -- all scored, as well as Alex Friesen and Brad Malone for the Wolves' 40th win of the season. With the Grand Rapids Griffins idle tonight, Chicago is now one point (92-91) ahead of the Griffins. However, with the league standings based on percentage points and Grand Rapids holding two games in hand, the Wolves (.648) trail the Griffins (.659) for the Central Division lead.
The Wolves (40-19-7-5) opened scoring at 6:21 of the first frame when they seized a neutral-zone turnover. Wade Megan sprung Andrew Agozzino up the left boards into the Charlotte's zone. Agozzino took the initial shot from near the midway point of the wall, and Dunn rushed through the slot and redirected the puck past Tom McCollum (8-2-1) for the 1-0 lead at 6:21.
Chicago closed the period with a 2-0 lead when Scooter Vaughan wrangled a Charlotte defensive-zone clearing attempt along the left-side boards. He lasered a pass to Gervais, who had floated out of the right corner to the top of the crease for an easy chip-in with 41 seconds to go in the session.
During a second period filled with back-and-forth action, Charlotte (35-29-5-0) pulled within a goal at 12:07. Philip Samuelsson ripped a shot from the point that Husso (11-6-1) slid to the left of his crease to save. However, the puck popped loose and Valentin Zykov shoved it behind the net to Haydn Fleury, who tapped it along to Andrew Miller standing in front of an empty net for the goal.
Less than five minutes later, Walman netted his first professional goal to extend Chicago's lead 4-1. After a failed shot attempted for the center point, Walman floated to the right point and called for the puck from Morgan Ellis on the same-side wall. He blasted a one-timer from his knee for the goal in the second game of his career.
Charlotte quickly cut Chicago's lead back to two goals, at 11:09, scoring on its second power-play opportunity of the game. Rookie Aleksi Saarela netted his fourth goal in as many games when he scarfed up the rebound on Husso's doorstep from a Fleury point shot.
The Checkers continued to carry the momentum and, with the Wolves' Samuel Blais in the penalty box for cross-checking, Charlotte pulled McCollum for a 6-on-4 power-play advantage. The gamble paid off when Trevor Carrick ripped a shot from the center point that found its way through traffic at 16:51 to cut the lead to 4-3.
Charlotte continued to skate with the net empty, looking to tie the game. Vaughan took an untimely penalty with 1:58 left to give the Checkers another 6-on-4 advantage. Fortunately for the Wolves, Malone blocked a shot attempt in front of the Wolves' net, and he slung the puck from the left defensive circle right into the empty net for a short-handed tally and the 5-3 final score.