HOUSTON –– The Chicago Wolves scored three unanswered goals to overcome a third-period deficit and pull out a 4-2 victory Friday night over the Houston Aeros at the Toyota Center.
Wolves center Steve Reinprecht and right wing Mark Mancari scored 26 seconds apart late in the third period as Chicago (39-26-3-3) won for the second time this season when trailing at the start of the final period.
The victory not only kept the Wolves (84 points) in first place in the AHL’s Midwest Division, it gave them a chance to wrap up their 15th playoff bid in the team’s 18-year history on Saturday night at Oklahoma City.
If the Wolves defeat the Western Conference-leading Barons — while Peoria (82 points) loses in regulation at Houston and Rochester (77 points) loses at Lake Erie — then Craig MacTavish’s will clinch a playoff spot.
Center Jordan Schroeder and forward Darren Haydar added goals for the Wolves Friday night. Reinprecht added two assists while Haydar delivered an assist on Mancari’s game-winning goal. Forwards Tim Miller and Anton Rodin and defensemen Nolan Baumgartner and Mark Matheson each collected one assist.
Goaltender Matt Climie (20-10-0) stopped 23 of 25 shots to earn his 10th win in 16 starts since the start of 2012. Matt Hackett made 23 saves in the loss.
After a scoreless first period in which the Wolves were unable to take advantage two power-play opportunities, Aeros left wing Joel Broda opened the scoring 2:38 into the second period.
Schroeder finally broke through and tied the game with 3:14 remaining in the second period on the Wolves fourth power play of the game. Schroeder received a finesse backhand pass from Reinprecht and one-timed the puck from the top of the left circle past the outstretched Hackett (17-16-5) to become the second Wolves player to reach the 20-goal plateau this season.
Houston (32-24-5-10) regained the lead before the end of the period. Aeros right wing Nick Palmieri picked up a loose puck in the slot after it got caught in Houston left wing Brett Bulmer’s skates and ripped it into the top shelf of the Wolves net.
Momentum quickly shifted to Chicago late in the third period. Following a Rodin shot, Reinprecht evened the score by swatting home Miller’s centering feed from the right corner with 5:49 remaining in the third period.
The Wolves went ahead for the first time in the game 26 seconds later when Mancari put home his team-leading 29th goal of the season. He followed up Haydar’s shot from the left circle and tapped home his ninth-game winning goal of the season.
Haydar provided the insurance empty-net goal with 31 seconds left in the game to improve the Wolves record to 2-1-1-0 on the road trip.
The Wolves return to the ice at 7 p.m. Saturday in Oklahoma City. Chicago’s next appearance at Allstate Arena is Saturday, April 14, against Milwaukee for the final Amtrak Rivalry contest of the season.