Not so fast, say the Milwaukee Admirals.

Fighting for their season last night, the Admirals sent a message that the Chicago Wolves have a battle on their hands in the Central Division Finals. Milwaukee’s 4-2 win in Game 3 cut Chicago’s series lead to 2-1.

In the teams’ first two games, Chicago outscored Milwaukee, 14-4. Going into Game 3, the Wolves had a plus-20 goal differential (28-8) in the postseason and were averaging 5.6 goals scored per game.

But this is a Milwaukee team that won five of the final seven games of the teams’ regular-season series and has never been a pushover.

Needing a spark, Admirals head coach Karl Taylor turned back to goaltender Devin Cooley, the hero of the first two games of their division semifinal series against the Manitoba Moose when he stopped 83 of 86 shots in a pair of wins. But Taylor had turned over Milwaukee’s goaltending work to Connor Ingram upon his return from the Nashville Predators, and while Ingram went on to help Milwaukee close out the Moose, he ran into trouble against Chicago’s potent attack and was pulled in both Games 1 and 2.

Last night, Cooley turned in 47 saves.

“We were a real resilient group,” Taylor told Admirals broadcaster Aaron Sims after the game. “I thought we played hard. You know, it was a challenging game. They’re a very good hockey team. We wanted to fight another day, and we definitely did that.

“They’re a lot to handle. We’re excited to be in this position to play against the number-one team in the league.”

During the regular season Cooley played behind Ingram, who appeared in a league-high 55 games. But Cooley’s work during the postseason against the Central Division’s top two regular-season clubs has shown that he can compete for playoff net time as well.

“He’s really grown a lot this year,” Taylor continued. “Really proud of his path and what he’s done, and he’s turning himself into a really good goalie.

“He’s a real student of the game, and it’s exciting when you see someone get rewarded.”

Cooley is now 3-1 with a 2.72 goals-against average and .935 save percentage in his six playoff appearances. While Chicago churned out 49 shots in Game 3, Cooley credited his teammates with limiting second- and third-chance opportunities.

“It’s my job to make that first save, and they did a great job of cleaning up the rebounds and making my life a little bit easier,” Cooley told Sims.

The Rochester Americans were not going quietly, and the Laval Rocket knew it.

Laval needed to go to a third overtime period before finally overcoming the Amerks with a 6-5 win in Game 3 last night, completing a sweep of the North Division Finals. Laval erased Rochester leads of 2-0 and 5-4 before Jean-Sébastien Dea won it on the Rocket’s 60th shot of the night, earning their trip to the Eastern Conference Finals.

“For us it was to take away their speed and time,” Rocket head coach J-F Houle said of the key to putting away Rochester. “I think we did that really well at home. We did that, too, tonight at some points. I know in the third they came back, but I didn’t think that we gave them too many chances throughout the series, and that was a key for us.”

For the Rocket, this was their second series-clinching overtime win in a span of nine days; they eliminated the Syracuse Crunch in a winner-take-all Game 5 on May 17. But with four strong lines, Houle had the ability to use his full bench as the game extended into its third overtime and kept his team refreshed.

“We didn’t cut our bench at all,” Houle said. “I thought all four lines were going, so I didn’t feel the necessity of cutting the lines, and that’s an advantage that you have when you feel confident about your lineup. We just kept rolling, kept rolling, and I thought we had some good energy even in overtime.

“We were knocking at the door. We had some really good grade-A chances in all three overtimes, and it was just a matter of time for us before we found that goal.”

Patrick Williams

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