There is no getting around it -- the season will be a failure if the Chicago Wolves lose Game 5 of their Western Conference quarterfinals series with the Rochester Americans on Sunday afternoon.
Winning the Midwest Division, having the leagues' most-decorated goalie and setting a franchise record for earning at least one point in 17 consecutive home games. None of that will matter if the Wolves fail to close out the Amerks and win only their second postseason series since 2008.
In order to do that, the first thing the Wolves have to do is forget about their embarrassing Game 4 loss. After taking control of the series with a dominating 4-0 victory Thursday at Allstate Arena, the Wolves did just the opposite in a 7-2 loss.
It was the most goals they've allowed this season. In fact, it was the most goals the Wolves have ever allowed in the playoffs (124 games). Nobody was safe from coach John Anderson's assessment of the game.
"For us it was a collective effort. We were bad throughout the lineup," he said.
Even all-everything goalie Jake Allen faltered and was pulled for the first time in a Wolves sweater. He'd completed 88 consecutive games since last being pulled Oct. 12, 2012, while with the Peoria Rivermen. Allen allowed five goals on 17 shots before being replaced by Matt Climie midway through the game.
After the game Allen didn't sound concerned about any lingering mental effect interfering with Sunday's game.
"It’s a new game—that’s all it is," Allen said Friday. "Do or die. It’s one more game and we can’t really do anything about this one."
But the Amerks gave the Wolves plenty to think about in the intervening hours between games.
"There’s just so many things that go in your mind," Anderson said. "That’s why it’s the playoffs. That’s why it’s intense. That’s why being strong mentally is important. We’ve got to gather ourselves up (Saturday) and get ready (for Sunday)."
Rochester scored three power-play goals, and another one just seconds after a penalty expired. The Amerks killed off all four Chicago man-advantages, and scored once when Frederick Roy beat Allen on a breakaway after exiting the penalty box.
That made it 5-1, and ended Allen's night. Roy's goal put a spotlight on the struggles of defenseman Mark Cundari, who was a minus-4 in the game.
"Cundari, he waited too long. He knew (Roy) was coming out, we were yelling at him," Anderson said. "But you think you can always make the play because you want to help the team. Again, deviating away from game plans because of how well they played, it topsy-turvied ours and we just couldn’t recover."
Although he mentioned Cundari specifically, Anderson was agitated with everybody on the team, especially those on the power-power play units. In Thursday's win, the Wolves scored three man-advantage goals and have five for the series after finishing dead last in the category during the regular season.
"It wasn’t about us converting--we couldn’t make a pass to each other," Anderson said. "It was sickening. We’re better than that. Whether it was a little fatigue, I don’t know, but our passing was horrible. Around the net we had a couple point-blank chances we don’t finish."
If anything positive emerged from the game it's that the Wolves get one more shot at the Amerks to advance to a conference semifinal matchup with the Toronto Marlies. And resiliency has been a trademark for this squad.
"We played 80 games this year and we know what to do," Allen said. "We’ve done it all year long. I have utmost confidence in this group that we’ll rebound Sunday."
ODD AND ENDS
This is the final first-round series to be decided. Only one other -- Providence vs. Springfield in the East -- went the distance. ... With Providence's Game 5 victory Saturday, all three division winners in the Eastern Conference have been eliminated. If the Wolves win Sunday, all three Western division winners would advance. ... Since 2002, teams scoring first in winner-take-all games are 41-12. ... Chicago is 6-2 in winner-take-all games since joining the AHL, including 4-2 at Allstate Arena. ... Including this year, all four playoff series the Wolves have played since winning the Calder Cup in 2008 went the distance. They are 1-2 so far.