Wolves explode early, even series 1-1

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Stefan Noesen, left, and Josh Leivo celebrate after Leivo's power-play goal gave the Wolves a 4-0 lead in the first period on their way to a 6-2 victory in Game 2 of the Calder Cup Finals Monday night at Allstate Arena.

    Stefan Noesen, left, and Josh Leivo celebrate after Leivo's power-play goal gave the Wolves a 4-0 lead in the first period on their way to a 6-2 victory in Game 2 of the Calder Cup Finals Monday night at Allstate Arena. Ross Dettman/Chicago Wolves

 
 
Updated 6/20/2022 11:18 PM

The Last Dance -- ESPN's documentary on the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls -- is full of inspirational moments for athletes of all ages.

One of them was sent to Chicago Wolves captain Andrew Poturalski after his team's heartbreaking loss to Springfield in Game 1 of the Calder Cup Finals on Sunday.

 

The clip is of Michael Jordan calmly talking about how the Bulls' loss to the Lakers in the 1991 NBA Finals was no big deal.

"Someone asked him if he should be mad and he's like, 'Why would I be mad? It's one game. Next game's gonna be a war,'" said Poturalski, who got the video from teammate Jalen Chatfield. "And that's just kind of the mindset we had (for Game 2) and we were ready to go off the bat."

Were they ever.

The Wolves jumped out to a 4-0 lead after just 10 minutes, 12 seconds on goals by Richard Panik, Spencer Smallman, Joey Keane and Josh Leivo, and went on to claim a 6-2 victory at Allstate Arena on Monday to even the best-of-seven series.

Panik, who played for the Blackhawks from 2016-18, cleaned up a rebound at 1:41 to open the scoring. Just 30 seconds later Smallman fired a wrist shot that hit the goalie's glove and bounced into the net.

Leivo scored again at 9:15 on the power play to make it 6-2. With that tally, he set a Wolves record for most goals in a postseason with 13.

Game 3 is Wednesday in Springfield.

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"We were better tonight," said Wolves coach Ryan Warsofsky. "We were just working harder. Played harder. Played with our structure more. More details in our game."

In addition to Leivo, Stefan Noesen (4 assists), Poturalski (goal, 3 assists) and Keane (goal, assist) all had multi-point games. Noesen had the first 4-assist game in the Calder Cup Finals since 2012.

Panik, who was loaned to Chicago by the Islanders in March, was unhappy with how the Wolves let a 2-goal lead to slip away Sunday.

"It's not acceptable if you have a lead by 2 goals ... and you just give it up," said Panik, who scored a career-best 22 goals for the Hawks in 2016-17. "I don't know what happened, but I played in the Finals in AHL with Norfolk (in 2012). We had a quote: Get the lead, extend the lead or protect the lead. We just didn't protect it."

Panik is the only Wolves player who was born when the Bulls claimed their first title in 1991 -- and he was four months old.

Yet, that documentary still resonates and can be a wonderful motivational tool.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

What stuck out to Poturalski most was how Jordan was just swinging a baseball bat and chewing on a cigar before Game 2.

"We got a lot of 'likes' in the group chat," Poturalski said. "Everybody loved it. It just showed the mindset he had and that he wasn't worried at all. That's how we felt. We were a good team for a reason all year and we just had to get back to doing those things."

Springfield, which fell behind 5-0, made things interesting by scoring 2 late second-period goals. The first came on a 5-on-3 after the Wolves got an extra roughing penalty at 13:17.

Warsofsky blasted the call in the postgame interview, calling it "an absolute joke."

The rough play continued to the end when Wolves goalie Pyotr Kochetkov kicked Will Bitten and tried to put him in a headlock with 47 seconds remaining. Moments earlier, Bitten hit Kochetkov over the shoulders with his stick.

"I sit next to Leivo on the bench and I started tapping him," Poturalski said. "I was like, 'Look at him, look at, look at.' We got a kick out of it.

"He plays with fire and emotion and we love that. We'll back that up any day."

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