On Wednesday night, the Wolves saw why Charlotte Checkers goalie Alex Nedeljkovic was named the AHL’s most outstanding goaltender. They also experienced life without Curtis McKenzie.
Neither issue helped the Wolves’ cause, and now they’re behind in the Calder Cup Finals. And they might have to rally without one of the AHL’s most potent players.
Nedeljkovic made 38 saves, and Charlotte got goals from Julien Gauthier, Jake Bean, Patrick Brown and an empty-netter from Martin Necas to beat the Wolves 4-1 and take a 2-1 lead in the series. Game 4 is Thursday night at Allstate Arena.
“I thought we gave ourselves an opportunity to win tonight with how we played,” Wolves coach Rocky Thompson said. “We just ran into a really good goaltender.”
Nedeljkovic was heavily tested in the first, saving all 15 of the Wolves’ shots during the frame.
“They just had a lot of shots,” Nedeljkovic said. “It’s easy to stay in the game when you’re getting shots every other shift there, every shift.”
Entering Wednesday, a storyline in the series had been Charlotte taking an early lead in the first two games. That repeated itself in Game 3, when the Wolves were behind 1-0 after 20 minutes thanks to Gauthier’s tally at the 1:51 mark of the period.
Nedeljkovic then did the rest, turning back the Wolves during arguably their best period of the night.
“(Nedeljkovic) had a good game,” Wolves forward Gage Quinney said. “Sometimes, you run into a hot goalie and there’s not really much you can do. We had our chances, we just have to bear down. We play them again (Thursday) night, so now we know what we have to do.”
At least on Thursday, the Wolves will have one of their key cogs back in the lineup. Unfortunately for the Wolves, they could be without league MVP Daniel Carr.
McKenzie was suspended after repeatedly punching Charlotte’s Steven Lorentz when Lorentz was on the ice at the end of Game 2. A player with championship experience and production (eight goals, six assists during the playoffs), McKenzie was clearly missed.
“He’s definitely a big part of this team,” Quinney said. “He’s one of the main reasons we’re as far as we are right now, and he’s a big leader in our locker room.
“We had to bear down tonight. We didn’t get it tonight, but we get him back (Thursday) and that’s huge for us.”
While McKenzie’s suspension ended Wednesday, the Wolves could be looking at Game 4 without league Carr, who had 30 goals and 41 assists in just 52 games. Carr missed time late Wednesday night, and Thompson didn’t sound overly optimistic he would play.
“I don’t know yet for sure (if he’s OK),” Thompson said.
Carr’s absence would be another challenge for the Wolves, who outshot Charlotte 39-26 but only got Brooks Macek’s goal 14:49 into the third. Regardless of whether Carr’s in the lineup, the Wolves know they’ll have to create more traffic in front of the Charlotte net.
“He won goalie of the year for a reason, and I thought he was locked in early. You could see it, he was making some very difficult saves look easy,” Thompson said. “That’s OK. What we’ve got to do is actually get in the way more.”