ROSEMONT, Ill. – Toronto Marlies coach Greg Gilbert says his team doesn’t need any significant corrections following a 4-1 loss to the Chicago Wolves in Friday’s opener of the American Hockey League Western Conference final.
He’ll settle for better execution and fewer penalties as the Marlies hope to stay competitive in what could be a gruelling best-of-seven series. And they’ll also need to find a way to stop Chicago’s Jason Krog.
The Wolves centre and league MVP scored a game-winning goal in the second period and added two late goals to close with a hat trick in front of 3,821 fans at suburban Allstate Arena.
“We did more things to hurt ourselves than we did to help ourselves,” said Gilbert. “Everything we talked about (doing) we didn’t do. There’s nothing to correct. It’s stuff that we’ve done since day one. We didn’t execute.”
It could have been worse. The Marlies were penalized nine times on Friday, but Chicago was only able to convert on one power play.
That came early in the second period as defenceman Darren Haydar broke a scoreless tie. With the teams playing four-on-four, Haydar took a feed from Krog and weaved from left to right and fired a slap shot past Marlies goalie Scott Clemmensen.
Krog made it 2-0 at the 7:15 mark when he picked up a ricochet off teammate Joe Motzko and angled a short shot by Clemmensen for a 2-0 lead.
The Marlies replied 23 seconds later as defender Patrick Wellar scooped up a rebound of his own shot and skipped the puck past Wolves goalie Ondrej Pavelec to slice the deficit in half.
Krog added two insurance goals for Chicago late in the game. The first came with 2:07 left in regulation and he added an empty-netter with 40 seconds remaining.
Chicago also had some difficult moments, especially on a power play that only paid off once.
“I think the teams were feeling each other out,” said Krog. “I’m sure they weren’t happy with the way they played and we weren’t happy with the way we played. But we did manage to get a win.”
Pavelec turned back 26 shots while Clemmensen made 28 saves in defeat.
Friday’s start was delayed 25 minutes after a light fixture above the east goal failed to turn back on following pre-game ceremonies.
Chicago (111 points) and Toronto (109) were the Western Conference’s two winningest teams this season and split their two AHL regular season games, each winning at home. The Wolves, an Atlanta Thrashers affiliate, advanced to the series by rallying from a 3-2 deficit against the Rockford (Ill.) Ice Hogs. The Marlies came back from a 3-1 deficit to upend Syracuse.
Game two is set for Sunday at Allstate Arena. The series moves to Toronto’s Ricoh Coliseum next Tuesday and Wednesday for games 3 and 4. Two of the final three games, if necessary, will be played in suburban Chicago.