Wolves advance to Calder Cup Final
Defense wins championships.
Yes, it's boring. And obvious. And cliché.
But it's also true, and a big reason the Chicago Wolves are heading to their first Calder Cup Final in 11 years after posting a 3-1 Game 6 victory over San Diego at the Allstate Arena on Monday.
Curtis McKenzie and Keegan Kolesar scored 19 seconds apart at 12:28 and 12:47 of the third period to snap a scoreless tie. San Diego cut the lead in half two minutes later, but McKenzie scored again by snapping off a shot that found its mark at 16:55 to make it 3-1.
The Wolves can claim the franchise's fifth title -- and third Calder Cup -- if they solve the Charlotte Checkers, who went 51-17-8 in the regular season and have outscored their playoff opponents 55-30.
The best-of-seven series begins with Games 1 and 2 in Charlotte on Saturday and Sunday. Games 3-5 are in Rosemont on June 5, 6 and 8.
Wolves GM Wendell Young, who played on the 1998 and 2000 title teams, was in the hallway as players conducted their postgame interviews.
"You just want to build on their success because it's pretty cool when you see the legacy that he left behind with the trophies, the pictures that are all over the walls," McKenzie said. "You just want to continue to add to it and have your team up there for history as well."
Thanks in large part to goalie Oscar Dansk (.921 save percentage, 2.16 goals-against average in the playoffs), the Wolves have yielded 2 or fewer goals in 10 of 17 postseason games.
But Dansk gets plenty of help from an under-the-radar group of defensemen led by Nic Hague, Griffin Reinhart, Zach Whitecloud, Jake Bischoff and the recently reinserted Dylan Coghlan.
"They're incredible," McKenzie said. "I don't know if there's been a game all year where there hasn't been a defenseman that's black and blue afterward (after) blocking shots. They're warriors back there."
The 6-foot-6, 215-pound Hague -- a second-round pick of the Vegas in 2017 -- notched one of the most important goals of the postseason by tying Game 1 against San Diego at 4-4 with just 3:05 remaining in regulation.
He was also a huge reason behind the Wolves' first goal Monday as McKenzie managed to deflect Hague's slap shot past Gulls goalie Kevin Boyle. Seconds earlier, Hague was kicking himself for passing up a chance to shoot.
"I kind of thought to myself, 'You know what? We're tied. I should just be shooting anything on net right now,' " Hague said. "Fortunate enough we won that puck back. (Whitecloud) made a great play back over to me and I was shooting that no matter what."
Later, McKenzie crushed the Gulls with a huge insurance goal. It was his eighth of the postseason, all of them coming in the last nine games.
Now, there's one more mountain to climb -- and a formidable one at that.
"We've gotten to this point and it's great, but they don't hand out trophies for second place, right?" Kolesar said. "Until we get that trophy, until we get our banner up in the rafters there we're going to keep putting our heads down and focusing on the task at hand."