In most years, a team entering the stretch drive trying to scrape into the postseason would be the main story. This season, it’s just part of the plot for the Wolves.
After their 3-2 shootout loss to the Tucson Roadrunners on Saturday, the Wolves are tied for fifth in the Central Division. And entering the game Sunday against the Rockford IceHogs, they’re in danger of missing the Calder Cup playoffs for the first time since 2016.
The Wolves took a 2-0 lead on first-period goals by Gage Quinney and Curtis McKenzie but allowed third-period scores by Markus Hannikainen and Michael Bunting to send the game to overtime and eventually to a shootout. Thanks to Oscar Dansk’s 29 saves, the Wolves picked up a point on a night in which they were outshot 31-15, but they could’ve had two if they’d held on to the early lead.
“It’s unacceptable for us to leave our goalie out to dry like that,” forward Keegan Kolesar said. “Oscar fights all game for us all season, and to give up two the way we did when we knew we had to buckle down [is disappointing]. These are two big points we could’ve earned. It’s nice to get one point, but we should’ve had two.”
Coach Rocky Thompson said he liked how the Wolves handled Tucson for the first two periods, but he was upset by their lack of discipline (three high-sticking penalties). He also was displeased by the turnover that led to Tucson’s first goal and how a slow change led to Valentin Zykov’s tripping penalty that turned into Bunting’s power-play equalizer.
After the Roadrunners’ second goal, Thompson thought the Wolves played well. They killed Jaycob Megna’s high-sticking double-minor late in the third, and it allowed the Wolves to get something from the night.
“To me, point lost, but still it was important because if we didn’t turn it around after that second goal, they would’ve killed us,” Thompson said.
This playoff chase is only one aspect of the Wolves’ situation.
On Friday, the Blues agreed to a five-year deal with the Springfield Thunderbirds, taking St. Louis off the market after it had lost its affiliate in San Antonio to the Golden Knights. But a Blues-Wolves reunion was never viewed as a likely outcome, considering how their relationship ended.
The Blues and Springfield joining forces leaves the Panthers without an AHL affiliate for 2020-21. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the Wolves and Panthers are bound for a union, and rumblings have picked up about the Hurricanes potentially setting up in Rosemont.
But whoever becomes the Wolves’ parent club won’t have an impact on this season. The Wolves’ winless streak increased to five games, and the rough stretch in the third still bothered Kolesar after the game.
“Just a lack of execution, lack of awareness probably in the [defensive] zone,” Kolesar said. “We know what we have to do. This late in the season, there’s no more asking questions of, how do we get it done, what do we have to do differently? We should all know, and we’re taking this one on us. This has nothing to do with [Dansk]. It’s on us as the players.”