Nineteen-year-old right wing Nicklas Jensen delivered a hat trick in his sixth professional game while 22-year-old goaltender Joe Cannata stopped 38 shots in his professional debut as the Wolves defeated Peoria 4-2 in an Illinois Lottery Cup contest before 11,535 at Allstate Arena.
The Wolves (42-27-4-3), who rested several top performers with the Midwest Division title in hand, now turn their attention to the 2012 Calder Cup chase --- the team’s 15th playoff berth in their 18-year history.
The third-seeded Wolves open the Western Conference Quarterfinals at 7 p.m. Thursday at sixth-seeded San Antonio. Chicago’s first home playoff appearance will be Game 3 at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, April 24.
“It was good to close out the season with a win in front of our crowd tonight,” said Wolves head coach Craig MacTavish. “Even though the game meant nothing in the standings, I was glad to get some momentum going into the playoffs.”
Jensen zipped straight out of the penalty box and onto the scoresheet at 9:29 of the first period to open the scoring. Jensen received the puck in the left circle, skated toward the middle and flipped a backhander past Peoria goaltender Jordan Binnington. Kevin Doell and rookie defenseman Frank Corrado earned assists on the play --- Corrado registering his first professional point.
Jensen notched his second goal at the 13:53 mark of the second with the Wolves just getting started on the power play. Mark Mancari’s slapshot from the point ricocheted straight to Jensen on the doorstep and he shoveled home the puck for his third goal as a pro.
Tim Miller added an unassisted goal at 3:13 of the third. Cannata lost his shutout at 9:17 of the third as Cade Fairchild delivered a power-play goal with a shot from the point. Cannata stopped Peoria’s first 36 shots. Adam Cracknell shaved the margin to 3-2 with 6:21 to play, but Jensen wrapped up his hat trick on an empty-net goal with 37.6 seconds to play.
The 19-year-old Binnington (0-1-1) made 35 saves in his professional debut. Peoria wrapped up its season at 39-33-2-2.
To purchase a Chicago Wolves playoff package – which offers fans the same seat for all 15 possible games – or playoff flex packs, call 1-800-THE-WOLVES. Individual tickets for playoff games at Allstate Arena also can be purchased by calling Ticketmaster at 1-800-745-3000, going to any Ticketmaster outlet or the Allstate Arena box office, or visiting chicagowolves.com or ticketmaster.com.
Peoria 0 0 2 -- 2
Chicago 1 1 2 -- 4
First Period---1, Chicago, Jensen 2 (Doell, Corrado), 9:29. Penalties---Jensen, Chicago (holding), 7:22; Bruton, Peoria (boarding major, game misconduct), 15:42; Evans, Peoria (roughing), 15:42; Miller, Chicago (roughing), 15:42.
Second Period---2, Chicago, Jensen 3 (Mancari, Polasek), 13:53 pp. Penalties---Parent, Chicago (tripping), 11:40; Too many men on the ice, Peoria (served by O’Sullivan), 13:32; Jensen, Chicago (slashing) 16:40.
Third Period---3, Chicago, Miller 19 (unassisted), 3:13; 4, Peoria, Fairchild 8 (Heshka, Grachev), 9:17 pp; 5, Peoria, Cracknell 23 (Ponich, Shields), 13:39; 6, Chicago, Jensen 4 (Parent, Henry) 19:22 en. Penalties---Davies, Chicago (delay of game), 1:12; Polasek, Chicago (tripping), 9:09; Evans, Peoria (interference), 11:04.
Shots on goal---Peoria: 11-20-9—40; Chicago: 17-10-12—39. Power plays---Peoria 1-5; Chicago 1-3. Goalies—Peoria, Binnington (35-38), Chicago, Cannata (38-40). A---11,535. Referees---Graham Skilliter and Jarrod Ragusin. Linesmen---Al Stensland and Brian Oliver.