When the Wolves and Rockford IceHogs play each other in January one of the teams is usually at or near the top of the Midwest Division while the other is just trying to stay in the playoff hunt.
That was still true before the Wolves beat the IceHogs 4-1 in front of a season-high crowd of 16,280 thanks to two goals from Magnus Paajarvi and 32 saves from Jordan Binnington – but the typical roles were reversed. The Wolves pulled to within eight points of the IceHogs for first place in the division and came in tied for the final Western Conference playoff spot.
Where the Wolves (22-17-5-1, 50 points) are in the standings isn’t giving coach John Anderson any extra urgency that his team has to get going now.
“I don’t want to look at it that way. I want to look at it that we’ve got to win every freaking game,” Anderson said. “In the big picture yes, but the reality is every game is very important right now and we’ve got to jump on our opportunities, especially teams in our division.”
The IceHogs are one of those teams, and they’re on track for their first playoff berth since 2010. They’ve managed to keep a lead despite the departures of captain Joakim Nordstrom, Teuvo Teravainen and now Adam Clendening after his trade to Vancouver.
Coach Ted Dent said they’ve been able to deal with those absences because of their solid team defense and goaltending. Though that’ll be tested, Rockford (26-14-4-2, 58 points) at least has a cushion.
“It’s definitely a different position, a different feeling right now. We’re usually chasing. We’re usually sitting between seven and 10th right now in the last three years and trying to get that last spot,” Dent said. “I think it’s maybe a little more relaxed knowing that if you have a bad period or a bad game you’re not going to fall two or three spots in the standings. There’s still a lot of hockey left and still a lot of work to do, though.”
That’s also good for the Wolves, who have 20 games left at home.
“I hope that the Allstate’s really kind to us,” Anderson said. “We usually play better at home but I guess time will tell because we haven’t been here very much.”
Drew LeBlanc scored the IceHogs’ lone goal and Scott Darling stopped 23 shots.