Cracknell's back ... and the Wolves are thankful

Cracknell's back ... and the Wolves are thankful
ROSS DETTMAN / CHICAGO WOLVES | Right wing Adam Cracknell returned to the Wolves lineup and contributed right away in their 4-0 victory over Rochester in Game 3 of their Western Conference quarterfinal series. Cracknell scored shorthanded and on the power play, shown here, as the Wolves scored three goals with the man advantage.

Adam Cracknell joked Thursday night about being accepted again by Chicago hockey fans, especially the ones who cheer for the Wolves. Fresh from the disappointment of the St. Louis Blues truncated Stanley Cup run, Cracknell turned his attention to pursuit of the Calder Cup.

And he did it in a big way. Cracknell scored a shorthanded goal with six minutes left in the first period, then added a power-play goal less than two minutes later as the Wolves gained control of their Western Conference quarterfinal series against the Rochester Americans with a 4-0 victory at Allstate Arena.

"Thank goodness he was here," Wolves coach John Anderson said.

Cracknell was a healthy scratch in the Blues' Game 6 loss to the Blackhawks last Sunday, but didn't get back to Chicago until late Wednesday night. He participated in the morning skate, but never practiced with the Wolves before being inserted into the lineup.

Although Wolves GM Wendell Young said Cracknell didn't have to go through waivers to rejoin the Wolves, several reports said Cracknell did clear waivers Wednesday. That explains why Cracknell wasn't back in time to practice with the team. Not that it mattered.

"I haven’t skated in a few days, so that was my main concern," said Cracknell, who becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer. "Once it’s playoffs and you get out there and you get the emotion again, it’s like you never took a day off."

After picking up 25 points (12 goals) in 28 regular-season games with the Wolves this season, Cracknell had a two-point night in his Wolves postseason debut. That leaves him just shy of producing a point-per-game in a Wolves sweater.

"Credit for him to come down here and playing his heart out for us," said goalie Jake Allen, who made 18 saves to earn his first AHL postseason shutout. "It was huge. We’re lucky to have him."

A PRODUCTIVE POWER PLAY? YES, IT'S TRUE

Nobody needs to remind Anderson of the Wolves' power-play struggles during the regular season. The Wolves were so inept, using the word "power" is an insult to man advantages everywhere. (I kid, I kid).

Just for the record, the Wolves managed a paltry 12.6 percent (43-for-342) on the power play during the year, the worst showing in the franchise's 20-season history. They finished 30th -- dead last -- in the league in that category. Their previous lowest finish was 25th in 2008-09. Under Anderson, the Wolves had never finished lower than 18th.

The good news about all this for the Wolves? It became meaningless when the Calder Cup playoffs began. At that point every team was 0-for-0 on the power play.

The even better news for the Wolves? They've already scored five power-play goal in the first three games of their series.

"That’s shocking, quite honestly," Anderson said Thursday after the Wolves went 3-for-8 with the man advantage. "We were pretty sharp tonight. I still think we have room to get better, but you know, that’s just me being a perfectionist."

The Wolves also finished 4-for-4 on the penalty kill, scoring a shorthanded goal for the second time in the series. It was the first time the Amerks failed to score on the power play in the series.

"I thought we gave them maybe two (scoring) chances on their (man advantages)," Anderson said. "When your special teams are doing good things like that, you should be able to win hockey games."

HANSON FAZED AFTER TAKING PUCK TO THE FACE

This doesn't need to be turned into one of those "hockey players are tough, your favorite sport's athletes are not" memes. You know the ones, most of which drip with racial undertones and pretentiousness.

But what Christian Hanson did in Thursday's game deserves some sort of special mention. Hanson went down to block a shot near the Wolves blue line, and the puck caught him in the forehead, sneaking under his visor and producing a rather large gash that needed to be stitched up between periods.

It may not have been the wisest decision and he could probably work on his form a bit, but there's no question about his commitment level in the playoffs. It's something players and coaches notice and appreciate.

"That scared everyone on the bench because we heard it hit," Anderson said. "At any rate, it maybe helped him with the girls, get a little sympathy. He’s fine. He came back and played and I don’t think it affected his play at all."

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    Paul LaTour enters his fourth full season covering the Wolves for the Chicago Tribune. A freelance writer based in Aurora, LaTour previously worked as a sportswriter for the Naperville Sun after similar jobs in Texas and Colorado. On Jan. 18, 1968, his mother went into labor at a high school hockey game in Duluth, Minn., and gave birth to him early the next day. He's been hooked on hockey ever since.

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