The Express entered the week with four games on the schedule and one spot out of the final playoff spot. With the Cincinnati Cyclones and Reading Royals competing with Chicago for that last ticket to the postseason, every point would count.
Cincinnati Cyclones 4, Chicago Express 1
Chicago and Cincinnati entered the game on Wednesday night tied in points at 69, but the Cyclones were in possession of the number eight spot in the conference due to them having more regulation/OT wins. Whomever grabbed the victory would take over that all important eighth position. The first period was rather uneventful until the Cyclones grabbed the lead at 14:26 when Matt Carter scored on the power play. Cincinnati led the Express in shots 11-7 after twenty minutes. The Cyclones took advantage of yet another Express penalty in the second (surprise!) and increased their lead to 2-0, after Matthew Sisca scored his 22nd of the year at 16:31. Anthony Luciani added to Chicago’s malaise in the third, scoring at 13:29 of the period. Jonathan Zion attempted to make things respectable for Chicago, scoring unassisted with 5:10 left in regulation. The Cyclones added their fourth and final goal just 22 seconds afterward, off a series of funny bounces in front of the Chicago net, with Dan Eves getting credit for the goal. The Cyclones put 28 shots on goaltender Rob Madore, while the Express just managed 21 shots on Brian Foster. As an aside, this marked defenseman Keith Seabrook‘s first game back with the Cyclones since October after getting reassigned by San Antonio of the AHL. In case you’ve been living under a rock, he’s Brent’s little brother.
Chicago Express 4, Kalamazoo Wings 3
Chicago made their last trip to K-Zoo on Friday, entering the game with a 3-3-1 record in Michigan. The Wings served up some home cooking early, when Kory Karlander scored unassisted just 3:10 into the game. Aaron Marvin tied the game for the Express 1:17 later, muscling a puck past Wings netminder Riley Gill. The Express poured it on for the remainder of the period, with Maxime Gratchev scoring on the power play at 13:23, and Taylor Ellington giving Chicago a 3-1 lead headed into the break with just 3.5 seconds left in the period. The Wings held a 12-10 edge in shots through one period.
Chicago increased the lead in the second, as Danick Paquette scored his 11th of the year just 40 seconds into the period. The North Division rivalry heated up a bit when after Justin Taylor scored at 13:22 to get the K-Wings within a pair, Ryley Grantham and the Wings’ Wes O’Neil had a spirited fight. Grantham also received a minor for cross checking and a 10 minute misconduct for his efforts. Nick Sirota fired a shot past Rob Madore at 17:05 of the period, and the Express hung onto a one goal lead heading into the third. The K-Wings put 14 shots on net in the final frame compared to the Express’ 6, but Madore stood tall despite Chicago having to kill off four penalties in the final twenty minutes. The Express escaped Kalamazoo for the last time this season with an all important two points.
Chicago Express 5, Kalamazoo Wings 4
This game reinforced two things to me: 1) you never leave a hockey game early and 2) never assume you know what a team is doing with their personnel decisions. The Express made a surprise announcement shortly before Saturday night’s game that they had resigned forward Devin DiDiomete. Yes, the same DiDiomete that the Express released a couple of weeks ago after receiving a seven game suspension from the ECHL. The same DiDiomete that received said suspension for slamming K-Wings forward Steven Anthony‘s melon intentionally on the ice with about a minute to go in a game on March 9th. Needless to say the contingent of K-Wings fans who made the trip to Hoffman jeered Devin every chance they got. And you know what? I think he relished it.
There was a game that actually was played, and it did not go very well for the Express through the first forty minutes. As in the night before, the Wings scored early, with Dwight Helminen scoring just 26 seconds into the game. Helminen scored his second of the game on a 4-on-4 at 12:05 of the period giving the Wings a two goal lead after twenty. Things did not get better for the Express in the second either, as Nick Sirota made the game 3-0, scoring on the power play at 13:48. Shenanigans began at 17:54 of the period – with Express defenseman Scott Wietecha taken down by an elbow behind the play, Captain Nathan Lutz took revenge by beating the tar out of K-Wings forward Elgin Reid. Meanwhile DiDiomete got into it with Sam Ftorek – oh heck, why don’t you just watch the video:
Lutz, and DiDiomete both received game misconducts, and with defenseman Drew Paris out after suffering an injury of some sort in the first period, the Express played the remainder of the game short three men on the bench. Somehow after this melee, the Express got a power play, and Jonathan Zion finally got the Express on the board, scoring with 1:40 left in the period. The Wings looked to put the nail in the coffin on Chicago early in the third, when Darren Archibald put a one timer past Rob Madore on a two-man advantage. Chicago though seemed to wake up when Darcy Campbell scored shorthanded at 7:25 of the period. At 13:18, Zion scored his second of the game on the power play to get the Express within one goal. It was at that point it looked like the Wings collectively wet themselves, as Taylor Ellington tied the game at 15:05 and Danick Paquette deked Riley Gill out of his jockstrap with 2:28 left in the game to give Chicago an improbable 5-4 lead. Madore withstood a last minute goalie pull by K-Zoo, and the Express hung on to complete an unbelievable comeback with their backs against the wall. The two teams though had to exchange more words of friendship after the final whistle, and Campbell, Archibald and Chaz Johnson were all given 10 minute misconducts at the 60 minute mark of the game, upping the total PIM count for the game to 131 – 88 of those to the Express. Yay!
Chicago Express 3, Toledo Walleye 1
You know I could bore you with another recap. But all you need to know about this game is this one fact: the Express had zero penalties called on them during this game. None. On the second most penalized team in the entire ECHL. I don’t even know how to explain that. In any case, Ryley Grantham scored two for Chicago and Taylor Ellington added an empty net goal with 2:21 to play. Kris Belan scored the only goal for the Walleye in the second, and Chicago outshot Toledo in the game, 35-18.
The Week Ahead: Wednesday (3/28) vs Cincinnati Cyclones, Friday (3/30) vs Kalamazoo Wings, Saturday (3/31) at Cincinnati Cyclones. These are the last two regular season home games of the year, so be sure to purchase tickets at the Sears Centre box office or on the Express website.
Current Standings: North Division – 1) Kalamazoo Wings, 80 points (69 GP), 2) Cincinnati Cyclones, 75 points (69 GP), 3) Chicago Express, 75 points (69 GP), 4) Toledo Walleye, 62 points (69GP). Here are the current ECHL conference standings as of Tuesday:
As you can see, Cincinnati, Reading and Chicago all have 75 points with 3 games remaining, but the Cyclones are in eighth due to more regulation/OT wins. Reading plays Wheeling, Elmira and Trenton this week, while the Express and Cyclones play one another twice, and Cincinnati also plays last place Toledo at home. It’s possible that either Chicago or Cincinnati could win the North Division, but the K-Wings would have to lose all of their remaining three games in regulation for this to even be possible. It is possible however that Wheeling and South Carolina may both miss the playoffs as well. It’ll be a crazy final week for sure in the ECHL. I may need a sedative before it’s all over.
Stats-O-Rama: Tyler Donati currently leads the team in points with 61…Pierre-Luc Faubert leads the team in goals with 19…Tyler Donati has 47 assists…Scott Wietecha has 14 goals, good for second in the ECHL for all defensemen…Nathan Lutz is a +19, tied for fourth in the ECHL…Devin DiDiomete is first in the ECHL with 265 penalty minutes…Danick Paquette is fourth in the ECHL with 209 PIM…Rob Madore is the Express goaltending leader with a GAA of 2.56 and a SV% of .915…The Express are fourth in the ECHL and first in the Eastern Conference in PIM with 1,442, averaging 20.9 penalty minutes a game…Chicago is 7/20 in the ECHL in power play percentage (18.5%) and 16/20 on the penalty kill (80%)
Recent Transactions: The Express signed and released forward Johan Ryd on an ATO…Matt Gingera was released from his Amateur Tryout Agreement…Devin DiDiomete was resigned to a standard ECHL contract…Kyle Ostrow was activated from Injured Reserve…Brett Motherwell, Tyler Donati and Chad Painchaud are on IR…Motherwell has been assisting the team behind the bench during his injury