Wolves even series with 3-2 victory over Griffins
Back in the day, nearly every hockey team at every level had at least one or two goons on its roster.
Their job was simple: Get under the skin of an opponent at every possible moment and always be ready to drop the gloves.
The goon has all but disappeared in the modern game, but the Chicago Wolves are definitely dealing with one giant pain in the butt in the 6-foot-2, 209-pound Givani Smith during their Calder Cup playoff series against Grand Rapids.
Smith is doing everything imaginable to get under the Wolves' skin, and while it worked early in Game 2 at Allstate Arena on Saturday, coach Rocky Thompson's squad stood tall and delivered a few crushing blows of their own during a critical 3-2 victory over the Griffins.
"That's their game," Thompson said. "They're always diving after every whistle. They're trying to have a scrum. They're trying to needle you to get on the power play. It's no secret."
Tomas Hyka, Zach Whitecloud and Keegan Kolesar scored for the Wolves, who evened the best-of-five series at one game a piece. Whitecloud snapped a 1-1 tie at 12:58 of the second period, and Kolesar scored just 44 seconds later to make it 3-1.
The Griffins didn't go quietly, getting to within 3-2 with 4:30 remaining, but Wolves goalie Max Lagace staved off 3 shots in the final 40 seconds to secure the victory.
Game 3 is Tuesday at Grand Rapids.
After a couple of plays had been whistled dead in the first period, Smith -- a second-round pick of the Red Wings in 2016 -- made a point to run into Wolves forward Cody Glass and later chirped with Zac Leslie. On the next shift, Hyka hit Smith from behind and was penalized for boarding at 7:28.
Mission accomplished for Smith, but the Wolves killed off the penalty and eventually settled down and played their game.
"That's what the playoffs is going to look like," Thompson said. "You're going to have to turn the other cheek (after getting) cheap-shotted. You've got to put the team first, but you've got to battle and compete every second of every shift."
T.J. Tynan admitted the Wolves were a bit "timid" in Game 1 and may not have been ready for the intensity of playoff hockey. That changed Saturday and especially when it came to how forward Stefan Matteau threw his body around. The 6-2, 220-pound forward doled out about a half-dozen crunching hits, including one that flattened D-man Jake Chelios along the boards in the third period.
"He's a freak athlete and he's going to throw a couple big hits," Tynan said. "I'm just glad I'm not the one taking them."
The Wolves are still without three injured players: League MVP Daniel Carr (30G, 41A), Brooks Macek (26G) and defenseman Dylan Coghlan (15G).
Thompson would not say if any of them might return during this series.
A series that suddenly got a lot more interesting just 24 hours after a demoralizing Game 1 defeat.
"We battled hard," Thompson said. "We were physical. We were competing.
"The little things we talked about last night, we definitely did tonight and that's the difference in the game. That's playoffs.
"We've got a young team that I think didn't realize what it takes. It's a step up from the regular season."