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Wolves start key homestand with loss to Tucson

After Thursday’s defeat, the Wolves are still fifth in the division, one point behind fourth-place San Antonio.

The Wolves’ Gage Quinney is stopped by Tucson’s Adin Hill during Thursday’s game. 
Ross Dettman/Chicago Wolves

Playing the Pacific Division-leading Tucson Roadrunners, the Wolves had spent all of the third period Thursday night down a goal. Then with 3:56 left, Valentin Zykov’s power-play goal tied the score to give the Wolves life on the first night of a six-game homestand.

That life only lasted 19 seconds.

On the shift after Zykov’s goal, Tyler Steenburgen tapped the rebound of Cam Dineen’s shot past Wolves goalie Oscar Dansk to restore the Roadrunners’ lead. Jeremy Gregoire then hit an empty net to hand the Wolves a 4-2 loss, keeping them in fifth place in the Central Division, one point behind fourth-place San Antonio.

Considering their position in the standings, the letdown after what looked like a key goal could be costly for the Wolves.

“We just know that can’t happen, especially where we are in the playoff race,” said Wolves center Gage Quinney, who scored in the first period.

“That shift after a goal has to be just as good as the shift that got the goal. It was just one breakdown, and it happens, but we can learn from that. We still have [17] more games, and we’ve just got to make sure it doesn’t happen.”

Coach Rocky Thompson gave Tucson credit for its passing and said the Wolves didn’t collapse far enough on the play, leaving the Roadrunners with what turned out to be an easy goal.

“It’s unfortunate,” Thompson said. “Those are very important shifts with momentum swings. This might be the first time all year a big goal is scored and we’ve given one up that quickly afterward. It’s disappointing. That was a big gut punch and very disappointing.”

The Wolves hope the rest of the homestand doesn’t feel the same way.

This stretch of six home games represents a golden opportunity for the Wolves, but it’s on them to take advantage of home ice better than they have.

In Thompson’s debut 2017-18 season, the Wolves went 24-10-2-2 in Rosemont. Last season, their record was 21-11-4-2. This time around, they’re only 12-12-3-1 at Allstate Arena.

Steenburgen’s goal taught the Wolves a painful lesson. It also increased the pressure for the remaining games, including Saturday’s rematch in Rosemont.

In general, Thompson liked much of what he saw from a team that again lost Nicolas Roy and Brandon Pirri to Vegas recalls.

The power play scored both Wolves goals and gave them a chance to pick up at least a point.

Thompson thought the Wolves had some good looks against Roadrunners goalie Adin Hill in a winnable game.

But one lapse did in the Wolves, whose winless streak jumped to four.

“They’ll make you pay on these types of mistakes,” Thompson said.

Kevin Hancock and Jalen Smereck also scored for Tucson.

NOTE: Keegan Kolesar (right knee) returned to the lineup for the first time since Jan. 31. Valentin Zykov (illness) played after missing six games.