Wolves find the power in their power play

Wolves find the power in their power play
ROSS DETTMAN / CHICAGO WOLVES | Left wing Eric Selleck slides into the post just after Nathan Longpre (center) scored the Wolves first goal in a 7-2 loss to Rochester in Game 4 of their opening-round Calder Cup playoff series. Longpre scored two goals in the series after scoring only once in his final 24 regular-season games.

No matter what the Wolves tried in the regular season, nothing seemed capable of resuscitating their morbid power play. Perhaps all it took was for the regular season to end, and to begin again at 0-for-0.

The Wolves went 7-for-27 (25.9 percent) with the man-advantage in their opening-round series against the Rochester Americans. They'll likely need continued success in that area to defeat North Division-champion Toronto. The Wolves and Marlies open their best-of-7 Western Conference semifinal series at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Allstate Arena.

Five of the Wolves' power-play goals in their first series came at home, including two in Game 5. Those goals by Brent Regner and Dmitrij Jaskin came late in the second period after the Wolves had fallen behind 2-1.

"They kinda had us on the ropes there in the second period," said Regner, who leads all defensemen in playoff scoring with six points (two goals). "The power play came up huge. It didn’t come up very big for us all year, but it’s starting to come together now. "

That's great news for the Wolves, whose power play finished 30th in the league during the regular season.

Despite the lack of production, Wolves coach John Anderson said the power play had started improving in the final months of the season. But getting goals is the focus on the man-advantage, and those came with regularity against the Amerks. Chicago scored at least one power-play goal in every game except Game 4's 7-2 debacle.

"Fortunately we’ve been getting some power-play goals," Anderson said. We’ve got to shore up our penalty kill just a little bit. But if we can some production out of our power play, that will really help us because I don’t think we’re scoring as much 5-on-5."

As Anderson mentioned, the flip side of this is that the Wolves penalty kill was less-than-effective in the series, allowing the Amerks eight goals in 27 chances (70.4 percent). That came after finishing fourth overall in the regular season on the kill.

BALANCED SCORING SHOWS WOLVES DEPTH

Regner, Jaskin, Keith Aucoin, Adam Cracknell and Nathan Longpre are tied for the Wolves team lead with two goals each in the playoffs. Jaskin added five assists, and enters Friday's game leading the league in postseason scoring with seven points.

Longpre's name is probably the biggest surprise on the list. He scored only once in his final 24 regular-season games before getting goals in games 2 and 4. Those games had something in common that Longpre wasn't shy about pointing out.

"The times that I’ve produced, we’ve lost those games. So maybe I can’t score so we’d win," he said after Tuesday's practice.

With center Alexandre Bolduc out of the lineup with a broken bone in his left leg, Longpre moved back to center, a position he played on and off all season as he also split time as a left wing. He also played center during his past two seasons with the Wolves before being traded away at the end of both.

Left wing or center doesn't matter to Longpre, who said he's just happy to see his sweater hanging in the stall before games and knowing he'll be in the lineup.

"I’m thankful for being here in the playoff run," he said. "Last two years I haven’t been, so I’m pretty happy just being here and playing in these games because they are awesome."

Longpre added he's grown more confident at center this season playing for Anderson for the first time. One area Longpre said he's grown more comfortable in is the face-off circle.

"He’s putting me out there for draws, so my confidence is higher than it has been," he said. "It’s kind of a blessing that I’m still playing center. But I just like being out there. No complaints."

RATTIE OFF TO SLOW POSTSEASON START

Ty Rattie didn't exactly make an impressive debut in the playoffs. Somewhat obscured by the fact 11 Wolves players scored in the series, was that Rattie had only one of their 16 goals. And he finished with only seven shots on goal, a total Jaskin had in Game 5 alone.

Rattie started the regular season slow as well, scoring only six goals in the first two months. He finished with a team-high 31 goals while becoming one of the top rookies in the league.

"Obviously we’d like him to score more, but usually with goal scorers it’s just a matter of time and once they start scoring they keep scoring," Anderson said. "It’s just getting your foot wet a little bit. I’m not concerned about it as we speak (on Tuesday). I know he’ll score goals so we’ll see how the series goes."

The Wolves are hopeful Rattie can produce like he did in the major juniors when he rang up 50 goals and 95 points in 76 postseason games with the Portland Winterhawks.

THE FIRST STEP IS OFTEN A DOOZY

Defenseman Evan Oberg wasn't surprised the Wolves were challenged like they were by the Amerks. It's the way the Calder Cup playoffs go sometimes.

"I’ve had some experience in the playoffs and the first round is always really tough," Oberg said. "A couple years ago it was our hardest series, so I told the guys that. Once we got through this, it boosts are confidence a little bit, so we’re feeling good."

Oberg played on the 2012 Calder champion Norfolk Admirals, who brought a 28-game winning streak into their first-round matchup with the Manchester Monarchs. After extending the streak to 29 games, the Admirals lost Game 2 before rebounding to win the final two. But two of their three victories were one-goal margins, including an overtime win in the series-clincher.

But the Wolves had history on their side. They won their 21st consecutive series after getting victories in Game 1. In the AHL they are 13-0 in those situations.

The Wolves will look to extend that streak by getting the jump on the Marlies on Friday and in Saturday's Game 2.

"They’re definitely a really good team," Oberg said. "They’ve got some good forwards. They’ve got big guys that forecheck hard. It’s basically the same kind of team that we played in Rochester. They came hard and they pressured us a lot. So we just need to play our game, move the puck quick, and we should be all right."

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