Chicago Wolves can't get past Checkers goalie
Duncan Keith may have won the Conn Smythe Trophy when the Blackhawks captured the Stanley Cup in 2015, but we all know who the most valuable player was during the Final.
It was Corey Crawford. And it wasn't even close as the Hawks' netminder turned aside 80 of 82 shots in Games 4-6 victories over the frustrated Lightning.
Four years later, the Chicago Wolves can definitely relate to how Tampa Bay was feeling because they are going up against a human wall of a goaltender in Charlotte's Alex Nedeljkovic during the Calder Cup Finals.
Nedeljkovic (38 saves) completely stymied the Wolves during the Checkers' 4-1 victory Wednesday night in Game 3 at the Allstate Arena.
"I've had him since he was 16," said Charlotte coach Mike Vellucci, whose team is now up two games to one. "He's a great goalie, he makes the big saves. He was exceptional tonight."
Game 4 of the best-of-seven series is Thursday at 7 p.m. in Rosemont.
Nedeljkovic, a second-round pick by the Hurricanes in 2014, was the AHL's most outstanding goaltender this season after going 34-9-5 with a 2.26 goals-against average.
"He was locked in early," said Wolves coach Rocky Thompson. "You could see it. He was making some very difficult saves look easy."
The Wolves fell behind 1-0 after just 1:51 but dominated the final 16 minutes of the opening period and had three golden opportunities to score only to be denied by Nedeljkovic.
The most impressive save came with about 2:20 remaining after league MVP Daniel Carr zipped a perfect pass to linemate Brooks Macek. As Macek unleashed a wicked one-timer, Nedeljkovic lunged to his left and kept the puck out of the net.
"I feel like I got pretty good wood on it," said Macek, who scored with 5:11 remaining in the game to cut Charlotte's lead to 3-1. "I got the puck up off the ice and elevated it, but obviously not high enough. You've got to give him credit. It was a really nice save and obviously that could have been a turning point in the game."
Nedeljkovic also stood tall on a pair of attempts by Gage Quinney -- one on a breakaway with 15:48 remaining in the first period and the other on a one-timer from about 20 feet six minutes later.
"I tried to go low blocker," Quinney said of his breakaway attempt, "and he almost knew where I was going."
After that, it was all Checkers as they took a 2-0 lead early in the second period, then went up 3-0 on a short-handed goal 9½ minutes later.
The Wolves played without the suspended Curtis McKenzie and lost Carr to injury in the second period.
Because the teams are playing on back-to-back nights, it's possible the Wolves won't face Nedeljkovic in Game 4, but his backup -- Dustin Tokarski -- is 4-0 with a 1.39 goals-against average in the playoffs.
"What we've got to do is get in the way more," Thompson said. "Better traffic and make it more difficult for him to track those things. We got away from that as the game progressed out of the first period. …
"We were able to do that in Game 1 and we scored 4 goals. We've got to get back to that for sure."