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2022 Calder Cup Playoffs

Calder Cup Playoff Central Division Final Preview: Chicago vs. Milwaukee

Calder Cup Playoff Central Division Final Preview: Chicago vs. Milwaukee

ROSEMONT, Ill. – The final two teams standing in the Central Division playoff race have quite the history with one another. This Central Division Final marks the seventh time that the Milwaukee Admirals and Chicago Wolves have seen one another in the postseason, with the Wolves taking five of the previous six series with their rivals up I-94.

This series also comes just one season removed from a unique 2021 season where seven Milwaukee players on this year’s roster spent their season in Chicago as part of a special dual affiliation with the Admirals opting out of the season. Despite the familiarity, there will be no love lost in this series matchup.

Chicago, as it has done with most teams in the division, decisively took the season series by a record of 9-4-0-1.

Final Regular Season Records:

Chicago: 50-16-5-5 (1st in Central)

Milwaukee: 39-28-5-4 (3rd in Central)

How They Got Here:

As the top seed in the Central, Chicago met the Rockford IceHogs in the Central Semifinals. The Wolves thoroughly dismantled their in-state rivals, sweeping the series at 3-0 and outscoring the IceHogs 14-4 over those three games.

The Admirals played the second-seeded Manitoba Moose in their Central Semifinal, taking the first two games at home by the scores of 3-2 and 2-1 before the series turned to Manitoba. Despite being outscored 16-12 over the series, Milwaukee took the decisive Game 5 by another 2-1 score to advance to a showdown with Chicago.

Series Schedule:

Game 1 – Saturday, May 21 – Milwaukee at CHICAGO – 7 PM CST

Game 2 – Sunday, May 22 – Milwaukee at CHICAGO – 3 PM CST

Game 3 – Wednesday, May 25 – Chicago at MILWAUKEE – 7 PM CST

Game 4* – Friday, May 27 – Chicago at MILWAUKEE – 7 PM CST

Game 5* – Sunday, May 29 – Milwaukee at CHICAGO – 3 PM CST

*if necessary

Season Series Recap:

The first three months of the season weren’t kind to the Milwaukee Admirals – part of it was due to a heavy helping of Chicago Wolves on the schedule in the first half of the year. Chicago won the first seven games of the season series, including two shutouts in that span. Milwaukee got its first win by way of a wild 7-5 win in February and the series started to even out from there, with the Admirals taking a 5-2 record against Chicago once their roster started to level out and the team climbed out of the Central Division basement.

The Wolves outscored the Admirals 45-32 over the series to finish out with that 9-4-0-1 against their division rivals. These games have been dictated by intense, emotional, and physical play throughout the duration of the season. Leading the Wolves in this regard was noted physical presence Kyle Marino, who had 5 of his 10 fighting majors on the season against Milwaukee. With other big bodies that love to scrap such as Joseph LaBate, Mitch McLain, and Mathieu Olivier on the Admirals, there was no lack of fireworks in this season series. After the smoke cleared, there was still plenty of chirping done by both sides.

The season record favors the Wolves. But in the postseason, both sides start at 0-0. Who is going to take advantage to take the upper hand in this one?

How Chicago Wins:

Dominate puck possession. Chicago’s bread and butter is getting the puck and never giving it back. It’s been their key to success all season long, and they can’t get away from it now. They are going up against an Admirals team that – at least for three games – was able to brave the storm and halt a Manitoba Moose team that loves to fire the puck. The Wolves are going to have to chip away and not give the Admirals any room to breathe by keeping them running around in their own zone.

Alex Lyon has to match the Admirals’ goaltending. With what should be a discrepancy in zone time, Lyon doesn’t even necessarily need to outplay Connor Ingram or Devin Cooley. But if the Admirals’ goaltending is stifling, the Wolves cannot afford to have a bad goal going the other way to take the momentum out of their sails. Lyon hasn’t had an issue yet – his 1.34 GAA leads the AHL – and that has to continue through this series.

Depth scoring. You know what you’re getting from the league leader in points (Andrew Poturalski) and the league leader in goals (Stefan Noesen) but the Wolves’ attack works so well when it comes in waves. Part of chipping away at this Admirals team requires an all-hands-on-deck approach – one that’s also keyed to Chicago’s success this season. Seven players had at least 3 points in their opening-round series against Rockford, and if the two-headed monster gets support like that in this series as well it could be a quick one.

Don’t get rattled. On paper, this team has the talent, the goaltending, everything to make this a quick series. The mental mistakes could be the only thing that keeps the Admirals around in this one. Chicago was able to avoid most of those in the last round against Rockford and that needs to continue here.

How Milwaukee Wins:

It starts and ends in net, and with a guy like Ingram, the potential is there to steal a game or two. Your best player in the playoffs has to be your goaltender – as the old adage goes – and that rings wholly true for the Admirals. In their three wins in the previous round, the Admirals scored all of seven goals. They won’t outscore Chicago, so they’ll need to have that high level of play from their netminders lead the way in order to take a few games and make it a series.

Get the Wolves off their game physically. The Admirals have some wheels but they just aren’t going to be able to keep up with the Wolves’ speed through the neutral zone that sparks their attack. Instead, the Admirals are going to have to get physical whenever they can by finishing checks in the corners, picking their spots to step up in the offensive zone, and probably getting in the Wolves’ faces after the whistle. McLain, LaBate, and Olivier have to get involved to get the Wolves off their game. They have to chirp, they have to grind and they have to get nasty. If the Wolves are goaded into an ill-advised penalty or focus more on getting even, they aren’t focused on putting the puck on net.

The penalty kill has to be better. The 70% efficiency that the Admirals posted against the Moose will absolutely not get it done against a potent Wolves power-play unit that features the likes of Poturalski, Noesen, Joey Keane, and Jack Drury. The opportunities will likely be plenty for both teams, and the Admirals will likely not be able to shut the door completely, but they can’t allow all of these chances and all of these goals against.

Be a pest. The Wolves won their last series in a clean sweep and will try to finish this one as quickly as possible. The longer the Admirals hang around in a period, a game, and series, the more it will frustrate their opponents. It seems insurmountable on paper, but taking it each step, each shift at a time with small victories can eventually build into the big one.

Download the Field Pass Hockey app from the iTunes or Google Play stores or follow @FieldPassHockey on Twitter for the latest news on the AHL, ECHL, and SPHL throughout the 2021 season!

    Andrew Rinaldi covers the Chicago Wolves for The Sin Bin. Follow and interact with him on Twitter @SinBinWolves.

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