The Chicago Wolves locker room area at Allstate Arena wasn’t the happiest of places Sunday evening, not after the team lost its second game in as many days to the Texas Stars. Yet, left wing Sergey Andronov managed to sound rather upbeat when discussing his play.
Of course, Andronov can be forgiven if his enthusiasm seemed misplaced. Sunday marked the first game he’d played since Feb. 7, and only the second one since Jan. 26.
“I’m feeling amazing, you know,” Andronov said. “It’s like (being brought) back to life. I’m happy to be in the lineup, in the game. I’m getting better and that’s really important for me, especially for this time of season. We’ve got enough games before playoffs, so I have time to get in shape.”
Andronov, a 6-2 Russian drafted by the Blues in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft (78th overall), returned with a vengeance, notching an assist on an early shift Sunday. Andronov streaked through the high slot in the Stars’ zone to steal an attempted outlet pass. He faked a shot and slid the puck over to Keith Aucoin for a one-timer into an open net from the left side.
You can see the play at about the 20-second mark:
The goal gave the Wolves a 1-0 lead at 7:25 of the first period, the first time the Wolves had been ahead of the Stars this season. But the lead lasted only 47 seconds and Chicago went on to lose again to the Stars, finishing the season series 0-3-1-0 with four goals scored.
The disappointing weekend leaves the Wolves (35-19-5-2) seven points behind Grand Rapids for the Midwest Division lead with two games in hand. That makes the upcoming weekend crucial for the Wolves’ division hopes. They play a home-and-home with Rockford on Friday (at Allstate) and Saturday before welcoming the Griffins on Sunday for their final meeting of the regular season.
Those games offer the Wolves a chance to forget about the Stars, who are tied with Grand Rapids for the Western Conference lead and swept the Wolves at Allstate Arena with three of their top four scorers playing for the parent Dallas Stars.
Sloppy play behind the net left goalie Jake Allen out of position for Texas’ tying goal, and later a bench minor for too many men on the ice negated a Wolves go-ahead goal in the second period.
Another turnover in the offensive zone led to the Stars’ game-winning goal only 35 seconds into overtime.
Despite his general displeasure with those things, Wolves coach John Anderson was effusive when it came to Andronov’s return.
“I thought he played really, really well,” Anderson said. “I was very happy with him. I loved his intensity, and he’s going to bring a lot to this team.”
Anderson said he cut Andronov’s shifts down in the third period due to fatigue, which he said was “understandable (when) you take six weeks off.”
Andronov reported everything felt fine after the game, though he did admit to being a little tired.
“It was a little hard, but, no, I’m all right,” he said. “Every shift I felt better and better. I think it’s more like a mentality, getting back in a game.”
Andronov returned to full practice about a week before Sunday’s game. That went well for him, but playing in a game is much different than practice.
“You can’t play right away after you spend four weeks just riding the bike and lifting,” he said. “You have to push yourself on the ice. It’s different work.”