WILD OVERCOMES ADVERSITY IN 2-1 WIN; CHICAGO UP NEXTApr 30, 2019
By Tom Witosky
When Louie Belpedio’s shot from just inside the blue line wound up miraculously behind Milwaukee Admiral goalie Troy Grosenick, the scoreboard showed the Iowa Wild leading 2-1 with 10:34 left in the game.
Clearly, there was plenty of time for a lot of things to happen in this bitterly-fought five-game series currently tied at 2-2 with the loser heading home.
Jack Ferreira, the Minnesota Wild’s senior advisor to Minnesota General Manager Paul Fenton, must have been smiling. This is what he and the rest of the Minnesota Wild front office wanted to see from the Iowa Wild, a team made up of rookies, mid-veterans and veterans fighting for a chance to move on in the Calder Cup Playoffs and future spots in the National Hockey League.
“They have to go through adversity to learn how to win,” Ferreira said prophetically in an interview a week before the Wild qualified for the playoffs. “They have to learn how to deal with situations when their backs are against the wall, whether it is protecting a one-goal lead or trying to get the game tied up.”
That’s just what they did.
With the 2-1 road win over the Admirals, the upstart Wild, who are in the Calder Cup Playoffs for the first time in franchise history, will now play the Chicago Wolves for the Central Division championship in the postseason. Quite simply, the Wild clawed and fought their way into the AHL’s Elite Eight with a best-of-seven series against the top-seeded Chicago and a chance to play for the league’s Western Conference title.
“It was a gutsy effort,” said Cal O’Reilly, whose power-play goal in the first period put the Wild in the lead. “They had their pushes and we had our pushes. That wraps up the whole series. We won the first two, they won the next two. It was a gutsy effort tonight to get it done.”
The Wild opens the series at 7:00 p.m. Wednesday in Chicago with Game 2 on Thursday at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, IL. The series will then move to Des Moines for three games beginning Sunday at 3:00 p.m., then the following Wednesday and Friday, if necessary.
Make no mistake, Monday night’s win clearly was the product of a team learning how to win a game with as much adversity as any team could face.
- The loss of rookie center Mason Shaw in Game 3 after he played each and every game on the Wild’s 76-game schedule. Shaw was replaced in the lineup by another rookie, Mitch McLain, who centered the Wild’s fourth line, which repeatedly brought momentum to the Wild throughout Monday’s game.
- The fact that the team had lost a heartbreaker on Friday, a 5-4 defeat in overtime on a blue line shot by Admirals defenseman Frederick Allard that deflected off the shin guard of Iowa defenseman Carson Soucy.
- The fact that team played 17 games out of their final 24 on the road, during which they got into an eight-game losing streak that wasn’t snapped until Game 73.
“It shows what kind of group we are,” Belpedio said after the game. “A little bit of adversity doesn’t hurt anyone. We battled through it and we came out on top.”
Head Coach Tim Army said the Wild’s victory was the result of the team’s ability to withstand major pushes from the Admirals through outstanding work by veteran goalie Andrew Hammond and an ability to keep control of most of the game.
“The guys were committed and battling. I liked our approach. I felt we were in control of the game,” Army said.
Of Belpedio’s goal, Army said the team had discussed the necessity of getting as many shots on net as possible. He also pointed out Allard’s goal was simply the result of getting a shot toward the cage.
“It looked harmless but hits off ‘Souce’ and goes in,” Army said of the Allard goal. “In a winner-take-all game and you are going into the third period, you can’t pass up any shot that has a chance. Sure enough, Louie put it down there and we got a good bounce.”
Ironically, Belpedio said, he wasn’t shooting at the goal. He credited Wild forward Jordan Greenway with getting him the puck on a cross-ice pass that seemed to surprise the Milwaukee defenders.
“I was just trying to throw it off the end wall. I wasn’t even shooting it off the net. Their winger did a good job of getting in the lane, but it took a lucky bounce and went in,” Belpedio said.
Army gave a substantial amount of credit to Iowa’s penalty killing units for the win. In the five games, the Admirals scored only once on 23 power plays for a 4.3 percent success rate. In contrast, the Wild’s power play scored six goals on 28 power plays for a 21.4 percent success rate.
In addition, the Wild penalty killed thwarted the Admirals twice on 5-on-3 kills and once on a 4-on-3 during the series, including Monday night.
“We did a great job all series because they have a great power play,” Army said. “‘Hammer’ made some big stops when we had breakdowns. Your best penalty killer always is your goalie.”
With its first best-of-7 series looming against Chicago, the Wild will have to face off against the Central Division regular-season champion with only one day off. It also will mark the Wild’s fourth game in a week.
But that didn’t seem to bother O’Reilly, who described the Wolves as a skilled and formidable opponent.
“We’ve had good battles with them. It will be about us bringing our compete as we did in this series,” O’Reilly said. “We are playing together and when you do that, you can beat anyone.”
Army added that kind of adversity is just exactly what makes playoff hockey exciting.
“If these guys are going to help Minnesota win a Stanley Cup, they have to be able to play in these kinds of games,” Army said. “That’s the reality of it. You have to protect a 2-1 lead in a winner-take-all game. A lot is at stake for this franchise, so we are excited about it.”