WILD BRINGS CONFIDENCE BACK TO WELLS FARGO ARENA FOR GAME 3May 3, 2019
By Tom Witosky
Ask Matt Read, Sam Anas or Hunter Warner whether they like to ride a roller coaster and their answers are emphatically the same.
“I hate it,” said Read.
“I don’t, actually,” said Anas.
“I’m afraid of heights,” said Warner.
But those three also acknowledged that – like it or not – that’s how they and their Iowa Wild teammates spent much of the last week as part of the Wild’s first trip to the Calder Cup Playoffs. On Thursday night, the Wild’s ride took a slide downward as Iowa finished Game 2 against the Chicago Wolves in the AHL Central Division Final with a hard-fought but disappointing 4-3 loss.
Coupled with a 3-2 overtime loss on Wednesday and the Wild find themselves at a 2-0 disadvantage as the series moves to Des Moines for the next three games. The teams will play Game 3 at 3:00 p.m. Sunday at Wells Fargo Arena, then Game 4 at 7:00 p.m. Wednesday. If a fifth game is necessary, the teams will face off at 7:00 p.m. Friday.
The two losses followed a dramatic 2-1 win to clinch the Central Division Semifinal series against Milwaukee after the Admirals had stormed back from a 2-0 deficit with their own home wins.
“That’s what happens in the playoffs,” said Read, a veteran of four NHL playoff series with the Philadelphia Flyers. “It’s about the little things and being able to play well, but also respond when things don’t go well,”
Head Coach Tim Army agreed that when it is playoff time, teams need consistency, resolve and a little bit of luck to get through each series successfully. At the same time, he said, players need to focus on the job at hand each time they hit the ice
“These are the best eight teams in the AHL playing each other, so each team gets tested by another team that has proven talent and resolve,” Army said. “No one said this would be easy.”
After both Chicago games, Wild players insisted the team had played well enough to win at least once, if not twice.
“We outplayed them pretty much the whole game,” said Gerry Mayhew following the Game 1 overtime loss, where he scored two goals. “We came out flying in overtime and had some chances and couldn't capitalize and soon enough they got their chance and scored.”
Mayhew scored a power-play goal the next night that began the Wild’s rally from a two-goal deficit in the first period. Luke Kunin, one of three players assigned to Iowa after playing most of the season with the Minnesota Wild, scored the other two.
“We fought back, but that is what this team has done all year,” Army said. “They recognize what they need to do to be a good team and have success. That's why we've been in so many games this year. They compete.”
Statistically, the Wild has shown how well prepared for the playoffs they’ve become, particularly with their special teams. The Wild ranks first in both power-play goals with seven during the postseason and on the penalty kill, giving up only one goal on 28 power plays for their opponent.
At the same time, the Wild knows they are facing a traditional AHL powerhouse, celebrating 25 years in the league and having won three conference championships and two Calder Cups, paired with two Turner Cups from the organization’s IHL days.
“They're a good team,” Army said. “They're very opportunistic, very dangerous.”
The first two games showed how aggressive the Wolves offense can be, as well the value of Oscar Dansk, the Wolves goaltender who withstood several intense offensive pushes at critical moments in both games.
“We didn't score when we had some opportunity. Dansk made some good stops. We’ve battled hard in both games, but just come up a shot short,” Army said.
Warner, who has collected two assists in the playoffs, said the two teams are matched well and know what to expect. So far this season, the clubs have played into overtime five times and one goal has determined the outcome seven times out of 10 games.
“We're both great teams and we’re so familiar with each other being from the same division,” Warner said, who now in his third year with the Wild. “When you're playing a divisional opponent in the postseason, it's going to be tight.”
The team is looking forward to returning to Des Moines to resume the series after 10 days on the road and five games during that period. While on the road, Wild fans have packed official watch parties in the Des Moines area as attention to the team has grown quickly since making the playoffs.
Mike Liambas, one of the team’s assistant captains, said Wild fans should know the series with Chicago is still wide open for the Wild to win. After all, Milwaukee stormed back from a two-game deficit and forced the Wild in a winner-take-all fifth game.
“We’re all thinking about the next game not about where the series is,” Liambas said. “We just want to get home, regroup and get in front of our fans and win a game.”
Army said fans should remember the Wild is still in this series because it now comes back to Des Moines, just as Milwaukee had returned to their home ice after losing two games to the Wild by a combined 13-1 margin.
“All Chicago did was hold serve. This is four out of seven and until that last puck goes in or that last buzzer sounds we are still alive,” Army said.
Cal O’Reilly, the Wild captain and regular-season points leader, agreed.
“It's our home ice and it’s going to be great to play in front of our home fans,” O’Reilly said. “We've been real good in our building and we know from our first series, the atmosphere is going to be fun.”