|(Photo: Ross Dettman/Chicago Wolves)|
Rosemont, IL - Josh Melnick scored just 14 seconds into the game while Alex Petrovic added his fourth goal of the season, but the Chicago Wolves (Carolina Hurricanes affiliate) CJ Smith answered with two of his own and Stefan Noesen added his league-best 39th as the Wolves beat Texas 4-2 Wednesday morning at Allstate Arena, snapping the Stars season-high winning-streak at five.
Wednesday's game started early for the Stars, both literally and figuratively. The unusual 11:00 a.m. weekday start, the earliest of the waning season, coincided with the Wolves annual Education Day game. Texas wasted no time getting on the board first when coming off of the opening faceoff won by Ty Dellandrea, Curtis McKenzie found Melnick skating into the slot who fired it from his knees past Wolves goalie Pyotr Kochetkov. Melnick's goal, his 10th of '21-22, was the second quickest of the season, with the first coming in this same building on March 2nd just eight seconds in, also by quick-draw artist Melnick. Texas was the first to score on all four games of the road trip.
The division-leading Wolves wasted no time answering the early goal just three minutes later when Vasily Ponomarev, playing in his first North American game, fired a puck from the top of the right circle that Stars goalie Adam Scheel kicked away directly to winger David Gust parked on the goal line left of the goal. Gust stepped above the goal line and delivered his shot from a tough angle, beating Scheel, unable to get back in time, to knot the game at 1-1, sending 11,818 kids into a screaming frenzy.
Play continued in the first with neither team getting out to a real advantage until late in the frame noted Stars-killer CJ Smith added the first of his two tallies on the day. Smith, coming off of a two-goal effort Sunday, found the net when he redirected a Noesen shot from the point and put it just under the crossbar to give the Wolves a 2-1 lead with just 2:24 left in the period.
The game could have gotten out of control at that point as Chicago was given a chance on the power play with Joe Cecconi called for a hook just moments later, but Texas was able to close out the period unblemished the rest of the way. The Wolves, powered by two opportunities on the advantage in the first, outshot Texas 11-5 for the frame.
The second period opened with Texas closing out the remainder of the Cecconi infraction while the Stars were held scoreless on their first two power play opportunities despite multiple chances, early in the stanza. The period was competitive but scoreless through the frame until late when the league-leading scorer Noesen redirected Jesper Sellgren's shot, possibly with a high-stick, and put it past Scheel for what would be the game-winning goal. Noesen's goal, his 39th of the season, was the 10th game-winner for the Plano, TX native.
Aside from the goal, the teams played fairly evenly in the second with the shots in the period level at 9-9 while each team went 0-for-2 on the power play as the Wolves took the 3-1 lead into the third period.
The third period was sluggish to say the least. Neither team was able to get anything going, nor really seemed interested in taking charge as for the second straight period the teams tied in shots with the only difference being that they were knotted at 4-4 in the frame,
Texas managed to climb back into the game and cut the Wolves lead to 3-2 with just under 10 minutes left in the game on Petrovic's goal. Anthony Louis and Ben Gleason picked up the assists on the blueliner's goal with Louis' assist extending his personal point-streak to a career-high of nine games.
The game wound down with neither team threatening again until the Stars pulled Scheel with just under two minutes left when Smith picked up an empty netter for his second goal of the day to close out the scoring at 4-2. Smith's goal, his 24th of the season, was his ninth in the nine games he's faced the Stars this season.
Scheel was solid stopping 20-of-23 shots in the loss, saw his record drop to 11-8-6 on the season while his GAA sits at a career-low 2.86. Kochetkov, the reigning Rookie of the Month, went relatively untested Wednesday in saving 16-of-18, to remain undefeated in regulation. The Russian netminder and #1 goalie prospect in the Hurricanes system saw his record improve to 10-0-1 on the season.
Despite the loss, Texas can consider the road trip a smashing success. The Stars picked up six of a possible eight points, solidifying their standing for the fifth and final playoff spot in the Central Division. Texas has gone 9-3-1 since March 9th to see their record improve to 27-25-6-5 (65 pts/.516%) with nine games remaining.
With the win the Wolves improve to 42-13-5-5 (94 pts/.723%) having already clinched a playoff spot and all-but wrapped up the #1 seed in the division. The winner of the play-in round between the fourth and fifth seeds will likely face Chicago in the first round,
Texas returns home and will open a crucial two-game series with the sixth-place Iowa Wild on Saturday at the H-E-B Center at Cedar Park with the faceoff slated for 7:00 p.m.