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Goalies grab center stage for Wolves, IceHogs
By Tim Sassone | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 5/1/200 12:08 AM

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There are so many interesting aspects to the American Hockey League Calder Cup playoff series between the Chicago Wolves and Rockford IceHogs that begins tonight at Allstate Arena.

But when all is said and done, like in any important hockey playoff series, it figures to come down to goaltending. That means the Wolves' Ondrej Pavelec vs. Rockford's Corey Crawford.

"Last series it was the same thing with me and (Milwaukee's Pekka) Rinne, but I think it's going to be Rockford against Chicago," Pavelec said. "He's a great goalie, he played in the NHL and played a great first round. We'll see what's going to happen."

With Rockford the top affiliate of the Blackhawks, the series is going to allow Hawks fans to closely watch Crawford, the franchise's goalie of the future and the likely backup for Nikolai Khabibulin next season.

"He's an unbelievable goalie," said Wolves winger Brett Sterling. "He's one of those goalies that can steal games for them. It's going to be important for us to get on him early."

Crawford allowed only 6 goals in Rockford's first-round win over Houston in five games. But Pavelec was just as strong in leading the Wolves past Milwaukee in six, allowing just 1 goal in Games 5 and 6.

Both goalies will face offenses that are among the AHL's best.

"Rockford's forwards are probably a little more skilled than Milwaukee's so we're going to have our hands full," said Wolves coach John Anderson.

Rockford forwards Dave Bolland, Kris Versteeg, Petri Kontiola, Jack Skille, Martin St. Pierre, Troy Brouwer, Jake Dowell and Bryan Bickell all saw time with the Hawks during the past season.

The Wolves scored 300 goals during the regular season, led by league MVP Jason Krog, Sterling and Darren Haydar.

"It's going to be an up-tempo series with a lot of speed," Haydar said. "There are a lot skilled players on both teams. We're not looking past them. They're a great team with a lot of players that played a lot of games in the NHL."

The teams met 10 times in the regular season, with the Wolves winning six games, including all five in Rosemont. There were tight games, high-scoring games and one game filled with bad blood. That was the last meeting on April 12 at Allstate Arena that included 186 minutes in penalties.

Don't expect to see more of the same in this series with so much at stake.

"You can't let your emotions get the best of you and take stupid penalties," Sterling said. "That's going to be a big key to the series."

Both teams have potent power plays, even though Rockford was 0-for-19 in the first round against Houston.

"It's a heated rivalry and we've got to be a little more conscious about taking stupid penalties behind the play and hooking penalties," Anderson said. "Those are things we've addressed this week."