Pirri, Chicago Wolves ready for a strong Calder Cup finish

Two games. Six periods plus an overtime. One-hundred-and-twenty-five minutes.

That's how long Brandon Pirri's NHL re-audition lasted as a member of the Vegas Golden Knights after the first-place expansion club called up the high-scoring forward from the Chicago Wolves 2½ weeks ago.

And, boy, did he take advantage.

In his first game, Pirri, who was drafted in the second round by the Blackhawks in 2009, scored on his second shift at Vancouver. It was his first NHL goal in 435 days.

Then, Pirri did it again, beating Canucks netminder Jacob Markstrom 3:27 into the second period.

Two nights later, Pirri added another goal at Edmonton on a wicked one-timer in the second period.

Three goals on 11 shots in 35 minutes of ice time. Not too shabby.

"I was looking at it and (thinking) this may be my last chance," Pirri said. "I was happy with what I did, and hopefully someone took notice."

A day after that second game, Pirri was back with the Wolves, a team he helped lead to an AHL Central Division title this season. The 27-year-old took the news in stride, understanding Vegas had wrapped up the Pacific Division and perhaps wanted to get a look at him or rest some regulars before the playoffs.

And for that, he's extremely grateful.

"They're in first place. It wasn't a shock (to be sent back)," Pirri said. "I was happy to get an opportunity.

"At the same time, I feel connected to the guys in this locker room. It would be nice to be up there, but I wasn't disappointed in coming back. I feel like I have a role on this team and we have a job to do."

Brandon Pirri , who scored 29 goals for the Chicago Wolves this season, also scored three times for the Vegas Golden Knights during a brief call-up in April. Pirri was originally a second-round pick of the Blackhawks in 2009 and signed with the Wolves last off-season because his wife was pregnant with their first child. Photo courtesy Ross Dettman/Chicago Wolves

Starting Saturday, that job is to make as deep a run in the Calder Cup playoffs as possible. Their first opponent is a team Pirri spent four seasons with early in his career - the Rockford IceHogs.

Game 1 is at Allstate Arena at 7 p.m. Saturday, and Game 2 is at Rockford at 4 p.m. Sunday.

After playing 60 games for the Rangers last season, Pirri decided to sign with the Wolves because his wife was pregnant and she is from Chicago. Their son, Luca, is now three months old.

Pirri scored 29 goals to tie for the team lead, but they came in just 56 games because he missed about three weeks after shattering a finger in late January.

"It's been fun," Pirri said. "I got back to playing with confidence, being put in situations where I wanted to be - having that opportunity to be an offensive guy and also play a lot more meaningful minutes. I think it was a good year to get back to my game."

And a good year to grow his leaderships skills. Pirri, an alternate captain, was one of the veterans who helped settle the team after an abysmal start by calling a players' only meeting in November.

Over the next five months, the Wolves chased down the Manitoba Moose and claimed their second straight division title. Pirri understands the importance of the playoffs because NHL general managers are always looking for players who have won before.

Might one of those GMs be Stan Bowman? After all, the Blackhawks are very young and could use a proven goal-scorer on the third line.

"That would be fun," said Pirri, who played just 35 games for the Hawks before he was traded to Florida in March 2014. "It would be an easy transition, but that's not up to me. It's up to them.

"All I can do is have a strong finish to this season, then train hard and wherever I end up, I'll go there with a good attitude and keep doing what I'm doing."

Calder Cup playoffs

<b>Chicago Wolves vs. Rockford IceHogs</b>

(Best of 5 first-round series)

Game 1: Saturday at Allstate Arena, 7 p.m.

Game 2: Sunday at Rockford's BMO Harris Bank Center, 4 p.m.

Game 3: Thursday, April 26 at Allstate Arena, 7 p.m.

* Game 4: Sunday, April 29 at BMO Harris Bank Center, 4 p.m.

* Game 5: Monday, April 30 at Allstate Arena, 7 p.m.

* If necessary

Brandon Pirri, who played for the New York Rangers in 2016-17, scored 29 goals for the Chicago Wolves this season. The Wolves open the first round of the Calder Cup playoffs on Saturday against the Rockford IceHogs. Photo courtesy Ross Dettman/Chicago Wolves

• Twitter: @johndietzdh

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