HAMILTON, Ont. -- The effort was there, but the energy was not for the Hamilton Bulldogs on Sunday.
Playing their third game in as many days, the Bulldogs were a step behind from the opening faceoff and fell 4-1 to the Chicago Wolves in American Hockey League action.
Despite the result, Hamilton head coach Sylvain Lefebvre had only praise for his players, who he believed had left everything on the ice over the course of a marathon weekend.
"I think we ran out of gas," said Lefebvre. "We had a very tough, physical game last night, and the guys gave everything they had.
"I'm proud of that group. They emptied the tank, and they've given us some pretty good hockey so far and battled right to the end."
Dimitrij Jaskin and Mark Cundari both had a goal and an assist for the Wolves (23-15-4), who won their second game in as many days while Tyler Shattock and Joel Edmundson also scored. Matt Climie made 21 saves for the win.
Christian Thomas had the lone goal for the Bulldogs (20-18-4) while Robert Mayer stopped 40 shots in defeat.
Hamilton's offence sputtered for much of the first period, but manufactured the game's first threat 11 minute in when Jordan Owens gathered the puck along the boards and found Jarred Tinordi with a centring pass in the high slot.
The defenceman drew a move from Climie as he glided to his left, but snapped his shot just over the crossbar.
The Wolves produced the game's opening goal after Hamilton's Gabriel Dumont was penalized for interference.
Chicago peppered the Bulldogs with point shots on the power play and the final one, courtesy of Brent Regner, took a deflection onto the stick of Jaskin, who easily chipped a shot over the near shoulder of Mayer at 14:25.
A costly misplay by Mayer allowed the Wolves to double their lead a minute and a half later.
Shattock carried the puck along the right boards and fired a weak wrist shot toward the net with teammates headed to the crease. Mayer stopped the effort, but deflected a rebound into the air, where it clipped a defender and slid past him.
Chicago's lead swelled to three goals just 1:28 into the second period, with the two teams playing 4-on-4.
A giveaway in the neutral zone sprung Alexandre Bolduc, Adam Cracknell and Edmundson on a three-man break, and Edmundson took the final touch on the right wing and fired a rising wrist shot past Mayer at the far post.
Less than two minutes later, the Bulldogs responded on what seemed to be a harmless rush.
Thomas carried the puck into the offensive zone on the left wing with his linemates alongside him, and launched a long-range wrist shot from the top of the circle that beat Climie over the shoulder at 3:24 of the second period.
Hamilton appeared to make it 3-2 when a bizarre bounce off of the glass behind the net had the puck bounce off the back of Climie and into his goal.
But Bulldog centreman Maxime Macenauer was judged to have touched the puck with a high stick, and the goal was disallowed.
Macenauer sought a review of the play by officials, and argued that the incident could have been pivotal for his team.
"It was a really close call," he said. "I felt that (the referees) should have reviewed it. It's probably a high stick, but you never know, because I felt that I might have touched it right below the cross bar.
"It would have been 3-2 at that point, and it would have changed the game."
A potential turning point avoided, the Wolves increased their lead with a fourth goal at 12:02.
Nathan Longpre took possession of the puck below the goal line and found an unmarked Cundari with a centring pass. He reacted quickly to snap a wrist shot over the far shoulder of Mayer.
Hamilton defenceman Morgan Ellis fell awkwardly into the boards midway through the period and was slow to return to the bench with an upper-body injury. He stayed on the bench for the remainder of the period, but did not return for the third.
Lefebvre had not been briefed on the severity of the injury at the time of writing, but indicated that it would likely hold Ellis out of the lineup for some time.
The most promising scoring chance of the third fell to Macenauer, who weaved through Chicago's defence pairing before firing a wrist shot off Climie's far post.
Still pressing for consolation, the Bulldogs were denied by a highlight-reel worthy save by Climie with six and a half minutes to play.
Martin St. Pierre protected the puck on the left wing and threaded a pass cross-ice to Owens, whose one-time shot was snared by the sliding Climie.
Chicago went 1 for 6 on the power play while Hamilton failed to score on four chances with the man advantage.