Game 1 Preview: Gulls vs. WolvesMay 17, 2019
The Gulls and Chicago Wolves open the Western Conference Finals tonight with Game 1 of the best-of-seven series at Allstate Arena (5 p.m., Radio: XTRA 1360-AM). After winning the most games in a single postseason in club history (7), the Gulls will play in their first-ever Western Conference Finals contest against the Wolves who make their fifth appearance since joining the AHL in 2001. San Diego has won four of their last five postseason games and have not lost in regulation in eight straight playoff contests (6-2; both losses in OT).
San Diego finished fourth in the Western Conference, following a regular-season record of 36-24-5-3 (.588). Through the first two round of the 2019 Calder Cup Playoffs, the Gulls defeated the San Jose Barracuda (third seed) followed by 4-2 series win over the Bakersfield Condors (first seed). Now, San Diego will have a chance to beat the only other team in the Western Conference that ranked ahead of them in the final regular-season standings.
“We got out there and it’s a weird feeling. I know we just played, we had a recovery day and we had a travel day and to me it feels like we haven’t played for 10 days,” said Gulls head coach Dallas Eakins. “The biggest thing for me right now is can we get into that killer mindset right away and I think that’s what both teams will be trying to trigger.”
In six previous series openers, the Gulls have posted a 4-2 record in Game 1, including a 3-1 mark on the road. All-time, San Diego is 8-6 on the road but their recent success away from home will help make the road a familiar place. Also familiar with the Gulls is success against the Central Division. In 12 games this season, the Gulls earned an 8-2-2-0 record against Central Division teams while earning points in five of the six road games (3-1-2-0). All-time, San Diego is 26-8-4-0 against the division.
Eakins returns to a familiar place as the fourth-year Gulls head coach previously spent four seasons with the Chicago Wolves from 1998-2003 as a player. In his tenure with Chicago, Eakins won championships in both the IHL and AHL, helping the Wolves to a Turner Cup in 2000 and Calder Cup in 2002. In addition to a familiar place, there will also be familiar faces. Chicago’s current head coach Rocky Thompson served as an assistant coach for the now Gulls bench boss during his tenure with the Edmonton Oilers in 2013-14. Wolves assistant coach Bob Nardella was a teammate of Eakins from 1999-02 in Chicago, while assistant coach Chris Dennis served as video coach for the Toronto Maples Leafs when Eakins was an assistant coach (2006-08).
Chicago finished the regular season atop the Central Division and entered the playoffs as the number two seed in the Western Conference. The Wolves are led by the 2019 AHL Most Valuable Player, Daniel Carr, who posted 71 points over 52 regular season games. The team also has T.J. Tynan, the AHL regular-season leader in assists (59) and Zach Whitecloud, the plus/minus leader (+39).
“They’re like Rocky Thompson is. They’ve got a work ethic, they play hard and the one thing that they are that Rocky is not, is that they can score,” added Eakins on the playing style of the current Wolves team. “Some of the similarities are the same that we saw with San Jose and Bakersfield with their defensemen being very active on the rush and on the cycles. Again, they weren’t the number one or number two team in the Western Conference by accident. They had their playoff spot wrapped up weeks before the end of the season and there we were on the last weekend scraping our way in. We feel humbled to be here, we’re fortunate to be here and we’re going to do the best we can against a very good hockey team.”
Forwards Curtis McKenzie (5-3=8), Tye McGinn (3-5=8) and Tomas Hyka (2-6=8) co-lead the Wolves in playoff scoring. Cody Glass, selected by the Vegas Golden Knights in the first round (sixth overall) of the 2017 NHL Draft, has scored seven points (4G/3A) in 11 games after joining Chicago following the conclusion of his junior season with the Portland Winterhawks. After missing their First Round series, Daniel Carr has registered seven points (2G/5A) in six games, the only Wolves player to post a point-per game in the playoffs. Goaltender Oscar Dansk is 6-3 in nine appearances, posting a 2.28 GAA and .912 SV%.
Through a league-high 11 games this postseason, Chicago has allowed the second-most goals (31) and lead the playoffs with 148 penalty minutes. The Wolves’ penalty kill has posted a 79.3 percent success rate, last among the four remaining postseason clubs. Chicago leads the postseason with nine power-play goals (seven in the First Round) and co-leads all clubs with two shorthanded goals.
The two clubs did not meet in the 2018-19 regular season and have only faced off on two occasions in the AHL. The clubs split their lone season series in 2017-18 winning their respective home games. In the first-ever matchup, Chicago earned a 3-1 victory at Allstate Arena on Dec. 6, 2017, while San Diego took a 2-1 contest 35 days later on Jan. 10, 2018 at Pechanga Arena San Diego with goals from Sam Carrick and Kevin Roy.
Ten players remain on San Diego’s current roster that faced Chicago in 2017-18, including Boyle, Carrick, Kossila, Larsson, Megna, Roy, Sideroff, Thompson, Tropp and Welinski. Only Adam Cracknell has appeared in games for both clubs, collected 19-29=38 points in 50 games with Chicago from 2013-15. Adam Cracknell has appeared in games for both clubs, collected 19-29=38 points in 50 games with Chicago from 2013-15.
“We obviously haven’t seen these guys this year. There’s a lot of turnover in the AHL, it’s tough to judge one team year-to-year,” said Gulls netminder Jeff Glass on preparing for the Chicago Wolves. “A lot of video and a lot of controlling what you can control. As a goalie, I can’t make them shoot the puck, I’m just going to stop the ones they shoot at me. It’s about preparing myself and putting myself in the best place to make saves.”
Jeff Glass has put the team on his shoulders this postseason and will look to build on his strong performance through the first two rounds. For the Gulls, the series begins on the road where Glass has been at his best. In seven career road games in the postseason, Glass has posted a 5-1 record, stopping a combined 219-of-230 shots to post a 1.40 GAA and .952 SV%. The 34-year old veteran stopped 26-of-28 shots in regulation in addition to all 25 shots in overtime of the fifth-longest game in AHL history, Game 1 of the Pacific Division Finals at Bakersfield (124:20).
“It’s funny, if you’re going to play four overtimes, you want to win,” added Glass regarding Game 1 of the Pacific Division Finals. “I feel like, I don’t want to say momentum, but it gave us maybe a little bit extra energy, that 1-2% we were looking for to maybe help us the next night. I think we did come out with a little jump the next night and were able to take the first two games.”