Rookie defenseman Matthew Kessel scored his first goal as a professional 5:09 into overtime to give the Springfield Thunderbirds a 5-4 victory over the Chicago Wolves in Game 1 of the Calder Cup Finals Sunday afternoon at Allstate Arena.
Forwards Jack Drury, Richard Panik, David Gust and Stefan Noesen scored goals for Chicago (10-4), which owned a 4-2 lead 29 seconds into the third period. The Wolves get their chance to even the series at 7 pm Monday when they host Game 2.
“They have really good players that can make you pay offensively,” said Wolves head coach Ryan Warsofsky. “We learned that the hard way there in overtime.”
For the eighth consecutive postseason game, the Wolves jumped on the board first as they took advantage of their first power-play opportunity. Captain Andrew Poturalski collected a blocked shot in the left corner and bisected four Thunderbirds with a pinpoint pass to Jack Drury near the right faceoff dot. The Winnetka native collected the puck and sizzled a wrister through traffic for his eighth goal of the playoffs.
Springfield (11-3) answered on the game’s next power play as forward Hugh McGing, who grew up playing five miles from Allstate Arena in Niles, knocked home a rebound from the doorstep to make it 1-1 at 14:15 of the first .
The Thunderbirds took the lead with 34 seconds left in the first period — moments after they killed off a power play. Matthew Peca dished to Brady Lyle in the offensive zone, then cut toward the net, received a return pass and sent it in for a 2-1 lead.
The Wolves spun that 1-goal deficit into a 1-goal lead in a 17-second stretch midway through the second period. Noesen set up Panik for a nifty backhand from the left circle at 8:01 to tie the game. Then Drury won a faceoff back to Cavan Fitzgerald at the left point. Gust set up along the left half-wall, accepted Fitzgerald’s pass and whistled a sharp-angled shot between goaltender Charlie Lindgren’s skates for a 3-2 advantage at 8:18.
Chicago kick-started the third period with Noesen’s power-play goal 29 seconds into the frame. Working from the top of the left circle, Noesen dished a pass back to Joey Keane at the left point and then started his arc toward the slot. Keane moved the puck to Josh Leivo at the point and Leivo issued a wrister that reached the slot at the same time as Noesen, who tipped the waist-high shot past Lindgren.
That gave the Wolves a 4-2 lead, but Springfield defenseman Tommy Cross responded just 24 seconds later as he pounded a puck through traffic from the point to cut the margin to 4-3 at 0:53.
Springfield forged the game’s third tie and forced overtime on Lyle’s slap shot through heavy traffic with 1:28 left in regulation. The goal came just nine seconds after the Thunderbirds pulled Lindgren in order to add an extra attacker.
In overtime, longtime NHL James Neal set up the game-winner by carrying the puck down the right wing, shielding it from a Wolves defender and nudging it into open space for Kessel, who whistled a one-timer into the back of the net to close out the AHL’s first Calder Cup Finals game since June 8, 2019.
Alex Lyon (8-3) finished with 30 saves for the Wolves while Lindgren (5-1) stopped 33 shots for Springfield.
“We obviously just couldn’t finish it off,” Warsofsky said. “I don’t think we had our best tonight. I think we had some guys who were just kind of passengers and maybe got surprised by the speed of the game and the intensity. Maybe that’s being a little bit inexperienced and being a little bit younger, but we’ve got to move on. We’ve got to move forward and look forward to tomorrow.”
After the Wolves host Game 2 Monday, the scene shifts to Massachusetts for Games 3, 4 and 5 starting Wednesday night. If necessary, the Wolves host Game 6 on Tuesday, June 28, and Game 7 on Wednesday, June 29. To get the best ticket deals, visit ChicagoWolves.com/Playoffs or contact a team representative at WolvesTix@ChicagoWolves.com.