Stockton played nearly as perfect a game as a team could hope for against the likes of the Chicago Wolves last night.

But when Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals arrives Wednesday night, the Heat simply may well have to put together an even more flawless effort.

A last-second 3-2 loss in Game 2 last night sent Stockton flying home behind 2-0 in the best-of-seven series.

On a night in which all 18 Stockton skaters registered at least one shot on goal and the team outshot Chicago, 35-21, the Game 2 loss stung. But the Heat are 20-4-1 in the regular season and the Calder Cup Playoffs in games following a loss, and have not lost more than two games in a row at any point.

In two tightly contested battles, they have more than shown that they can match the Wolves.

“We played a good game,” said Heat forward Eetu Tuulola, whose first-period shorthanded goal was Stockton’s response to Chicago scoring 17 seconds into the game.

“We had our chances. I think we need to be a little bit more sharp and bury those chances. It’s a game of inches right now. They have a lot of talented forwards, and [if] they’re just given a little opening, [they] might make you pay for that.”

Now the Heat are going back to Stockton Arena, where they are 4-0 in the Calder Cup Playoffs and were a league-best 24-5-5-0 (.779) during the regular season. They lost only four home games in the second half, two in regulation and two in overtime.

“I think it’s a huge, huge advantage for us,” Tuulola said of going back home. “We usually have been a very good home team, so I think that’s going to be a good factor for us going into Game 3.”

Even one chance is difficult to find in a series as tight as the first two games of the Western Conference Finals have been.

But two?

So when Chicago’s Josh Leivo had a second breakaway chance in Game 2, he knew he had to convert. Following Leivo’s missed second-period opportunity, he had sought out head coach Ryan Warsofsky’s view on the play. Whatever the two discussed on the Chicago bench, it worked as Leivo’s goal with 17.2 seconds to go in regulation helped the Wolves to seize a win despite Stockton controlling much of the game.

“It was a big relief,” Leivo told reporters, “because that was a hard-fought effort from everyone on our team. I think we got a lot better, but we just showed that no matter what the situation is, we find a way to come through.

“The motivation is the [Calder Cup].”

The Wolves knew they had escaped Game 2 with a win against an elite opponent, and they were not being too picky afterwards. Not even the always-demanding Warsofsky.

“Any time you can win a hockey game is important this time of year,” Warsofsky said afterward. “I still think we’re kind of tiptoeing into these games a little bit. Our third period was good, and we’ll take the win and move on.”

The Wolves know that earning two more wins against this Stockton club to move on to the Calder Cup Finals will be a difficult task.

“They’re a good team,” Warsofsky said. “Let’s give credit to them. They outplayed us. They’re probably sitting back saying [they] probably should have won that game, and rightfully so.”

“It’s a heavyweight bout, right? There are two really good teams going at it. Mistakes are going to be made. Adjustments are going to be made, and we’ve got to make sure we’re ready for Game 3.”

Patrick Williams

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