SPECIAL TEAMS PROVED THE DIFFERENCE IN GAME 5May 11, 2019
By Tom Witosky
When the Iowa Wild and Chicago Wolves took the ice Friday night, both sides knew one thing: the team scoring the first goal would have the advantage for the night.
What had been true in the four previous games held true again Friday as the Wolves took a 1-0 lead in the first period on its way to a pivotal 7-4 victory at Wells Fargo Arena before a boisterous crowd of 7,212 fans.
“We weren’t always playing the way we want to play, but everything went in for them,” a frustrated Cal O’Reilly, the Wild’s captain, said after the game. “They just got pucks to the net and got a lot of bounces tonight.”
The Wild now finds itself down 3-2 in the best-of-seven series of the AHL Central Division Final with Game 6 on Monday and, if necessary, Game 7 on Wednesday to be played at Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Il. The loss, the club’s first at home in the playoffs, put a damper on an otherwise successful week during which the franchise, now in its sixth year in Des Moines, received substantial attention and fan support in its first appearance in the Calder Cup Playoffs.
“The crowd was great. It's just too bad we couldn't get the win for them,” O’Reilly said.
Head Coach Tim Army said the fact Chicago took the early lead on a goal by Wolves center Matthew Weis didn’t bother the Iowa club much because the Wild had opened the game with a lot of offensive pressure in the Wolves’ zone.
“We were ready to go and had a good start,” Army said. “I liked the way we played even if we didn't have any shots on goal. We had a number of threats to the net that were blocked and we missed the net a couple times high and wide. I liked the way we started.”
When Ryan Donato, who hadn’t scored a goal in the Wild’s first nine playoff games, tied the game with his first goal, the Wild and Wolves appeared to be settling down for another tight battle. Donato scored unassisted after intercepting an errant Wolves pass and whistling a shot past Wolves goalie Oscar Dansk.
Minutes later, the Wild had its best chance to take the lead on a power play, but squandered it when penalty-killer Stefan Matteau carried the puck the length of the ice while fighting off Wild defenseman Brennan Menell. Matteau then slid a backhander through goalie Andrew Hammond’s pads for a shorthanded goal and a lead the Wolves wouldn’t relinquish for the rest of the game.
Army said Matteau’s goal – coming right before the end of the first period – gave the Wolves momentum, which they would use to score three more goals in the following period as the Wild tried to claw back into the contest. Among the second period goals were the Wolves first two on the power play of the series.
The Wild climbed to within two goals in the second period when Kyle Rau received a shot-pass from Sam Anas and beat Dansk on a power play to get the score to 4-2. But, another penalty opened the door again for Chicago, who then slammed the door shut, taking a 5-2 lead into the third period.
“We just we fell behind 4-1 and then you kind of try to dig yourself out of it,” Army said. “Then we did get it 4-2. And then we took another penalty and it's 5-2. We just couldn't get out of it and tighten the score up. We couldn't get to within one goal.”
One problem, Army said, was the number of penalties assessed against the Wild in the second and third periods. At one point, the usually business-like O’Reilly could be seen giving the officials an earful after being called for tripping Wolves center T.J. Tynan just after Matt Bartkowski had scored the Wild’s third goal and brought the score to 5-3.
O’Reilly’s penalty also had negated a Wild power play and would result in the Wolves taking an insurmountable 6-3 lead on a goal by Gage Quinney.
Army declined to talk about the officiating, saying only that “you get your power plays, you got to produce. You get to kill penalties, you got to kill them off. That's the way the game is. Another lesson learned.”
The veteran coach also credited the Wolves coaching staff for changing its lines just prior to the beginning of the game, forcing the Wild to make adjustments during the match.
“They flipped it a little bit and helped them a little bit,” Army said. “I kind of thought they would do something along those lines, but didn't know exactly what they would do. It's a good move. It loosened things up for them.”
Donato, who would score a second time with only 40 seconds remaining in the third period, said he was happy to get on the scoring sheet, but would have preferred a win instead.
“It’s not about me, it's about the win. So if we were to keep winning, and I wasn't scoring, I'd be just as happy,” he said.
Donato said the Wild’s most important task now is to forget about the loss.
“It's difficult, because obviously you want to win, but at this point, you gotta move to the next game,” Donato said. “You can't really worry about the past, you learn from it.”
“Now we get ready for the next game,” he said. “The next thing that matters in our world right now is game six.”