Gulls trip up Wolves, series tied 1-1
Curtis McKenzie raised his head to the heavens and his stick over his head in utter disbelief.
How did he miss that wide open net?
That's what the Chicago Wolves forward was thinking after his wraparound attempt bounced harmlessly off San Diego goalie Kevin Boyle early in the third period of Game 2 of the AHL's Western Conference final at Allstate Arena on Saturday.
If McKenzie connects, the Wolves cut the Gulls' lead to 2-1 and perhaps the entire story changes. Instead, San Diego went on to claim a 3-0 victory and evened the series at a game apiece.
Game 3 is in San Diego on Wednesday.
"You get opportunities like that, you've got to score 'em," said McKenzie, a four-time 20-goal scorer in the AHL. "Just got to make sure next time. I just rushed it a little."
Former Rockford IceHogs forward Sam Carrick scored the opening goal for San Diego early in the first period, and the Gulls made it 2-0 at 2:08 of the second.
Carrick staked San Diego to a 1-0 lead at 6:56 of the first period when he circled behind the net and pounded a loose puck past Dansk. Carrick, who led the Gulls with 32 goals, played 57 games for Rockford in 2016-17.
"Everything just kind of came together," said Carrick, who appeared in six games for the Anaheim Ducks this season. "In the past I would go through goal-scoring slumps where I wouldn't score for extended periods.
"This year, I never really went through that. I think that comes with a little bit of experience. But I don't really have a concrete answer. Things just clicked."
One of the Wolves' best chances came while they skated short-handed late in the second period. Gage Quinney managed to get the puck to league MVP Daniel Carr, nearly leading to a Griffin Reinhart goal.
"Usually me and Gage are on the same wavelength with that kind of stuff," Carr said. "He made a really good play on the wall and then Griff made a good play jumping in the rush. It was one of those net-drive, redirect plays. Their goalie's a blocking goalie and it just hit him."
Oscar Dansk started for a second straight night in net for Chicago and made 20 saves. San Diego, meanwhile, sat former Blackhawks netminder Jeff Glass and went with 26-year-old Boyle.
San Diego is proving to be a tough opponent.
Coached by former Wolves defenseman Dallas Eakins, the Gulls went from 14th in the Western Conference with a .429 points percentage to fourth by posting a 28-13-6 record over their final 47 games. Fourteen Gulls combined to play in 232 games for the Ducks, which is the team's NHL affiliate. The Wolves, meanwhile, had just three players suit up for Vegas: Tomas Hyka (17 games), Carr (6) and goalie Max Lagace (1).
"It's a great challenge for us and I think we have a really talented group too," said Wolves forward T.J. Tynan. "It's a heckuva series. Hopefully we can bounce back and have a good Game 3."