Toledo storms back from 4-1 deficit to win Game 1 playoff overtime thrillerWritten by Scott Calhoun | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Wheeling had the Toledo Storm nailed to the ice by way of a daunting 4-1 deficit through two periods last night at the Sports Arena before an improbable and spectacular comeback by the Storm sent the Nailers to their hotel rooms completely stunned and down one game to zip in the opener of the ECHL North Division Finals.
Forward Matt Zultek poked home the game winner with 5:50 left in overtime before a frenzied, half-packed crowd to finalize the scoreboard in Toledo’s favor at 5-4.
Zultek’s second goal of the game finished what he had started earlier when he registered the Storm’s first tally in the second period to tie things up at 1-1.
The Nailers struck first with 3:32 left in the opening period as defenseman Daniel Fernholm took advantage of a sprawled goalie Logan Koopmans to wrist home a rising lob just ten seconds into Wheeling’s fourth power-play. Koopmans was powerless to fend off Fernholm’s first goal of the playoffs after making a great save of a Luis Tremblay shot.
Zebras On Ice had been generous to Wheeling’s cause in the first, allotting the Nailers only one penalty while punishing the Storm with six. In that tilted stanza the Nailers outshot Toledo 14-10.
Zultek, however, tied the game up at the 10:52 mark of the second period by racing in to the top of the crease while forward Scooter Smith, with a defender smothering him, craftily finagled the puck through Nailer goalie Andy Franck from the left nearside of the goal. Zultek’s approach timed perfectly with Smith’s quirky delivery resulting in an easy score to tie the game.
But the excitement of the moment hardly had time to commence before the Nailers reignited their lamp 45 seconds later via forward Bo Cheesman’s second goal of the playoffs. Then, like Mike Tyson in his prime, Wheeling knocked the Storm into la-la land with a hard-hitting combo, scoring again just 1:05 later on a nice backdoor conversion by forward Sean Collins from defenseman Alex Rouleau to set Toledo back 3-1.
The Storm tried desperately to recover as the defense finally settled down over the final nine minutes of the second period and kept Wheeling mostly out of its rear quarter. But another powerplay gift for the Nailers with 28 ticks remaining in the second proved again to be catalyst for disaster as Tremblay whacked home a dish by Collins at the :10 mark to further bury Toledo. Wheeling led 4-1 at the second intermission. The Nailers were extremely efficient during the second period, capitalizing on three of their ten shots.
At that point no one in the Sports Arena thought the improbable could or would happen.
Apparently the Storm players and coaches did.
Rather than focusing on eliminating Wheeling’s precision scoring attack Toledo went into then third period with the theory that the best defense is a good offense and forward Todd Jackson set the example. Jackson gathered in a delivery from Scooter Smith’s stick at Wheeling’s left side baseline, provided himself enough of a feasible angle and then whipped the puck off Franck and into the Nailers’ goal from the corner to halve the Storm’s deficit to 4-2 with 17:16 left.
With that the crowd began to understand that the game was far from over and it seemed as though the Storm fed off the resurging energy as they completely took over the game.
After ringing up 24 attempts over the first 40 minutes Wheeling found itself able to only squeak out four third-period shots, and none during the last six-plus minutes of regulation.
Meanwhile Toledo’s troopers stormed Franck’s net with multiple onslaughts, really making things interesting when forward Mike James rebounded his first playoff goal, a powerplay tally, past Franck at the 15:03 mark, suddenly giving Toledo plenty of time to deadlock a game they were surely going to lose just minutes before.
With the arena buzzing and a once-cool Wheeling unit completely panicked the Storm smelled blood and took the bait, but Franck, the ECHL’s second stingiest goalie during the regular season, turned away try after try.
That is, until rookie team scoring leader Brandon Kearns made good on another Storm 5-on-4 advantage with 5:10 left, flicking in from up close a turned-away shot by defenseman Ryan Reid to realize the once impossibility of a tie game in the third.
Toledo continued to attack without response from Wheeling’s offense but the Nailers survived the rest of a period in which they were outscored 3-0 and outshot 16-4.
In overtime, however, Zultek became the latest capitalist of a shooting melee in front of Franck’s goal and pushed home the thrilling game winner 10:50 into extra time and the Toledo fans, players and coaches dispersed in waves of ecstatic wide-eyed smiles.
The comeback was amazing, like something out of your favorite hockey movie that’s never been made. If Wheeling had been Mike Tyson through the first two rounds of the fight, Toledo turned into a bloodied, spirited Rocky Balboa in the third and beyond. What everyone in the Sports Arena and those who watched on BCSN saw last night was a championship-caliber team: a unit hungry enough to win, potent enough to overcome any deficit, and talented enough to go the distance. The game had destiny written all over it.
SCORE BY PERIODS
Wheeling 1 3 0 0–4
Toledo 0 1 3 1–5
FIRST PERIOD — Scoring: 1, Wheeling-Fernholm 1 (power play) (Tremblay;
Verbeek) 16:38. Penalties: James, TOL (Slashing), 0:54. Keefe, TOL
(Roughing), 12:39. Smith, TOL (Slashing), 14:48. Hodge, WHL (Slashing),
15:45. Attard, TOL (Hooking), 16:28. James, TOL (Charging), 19:07.
Snowball, TOL (Unsportsmanlike Cond), 19:07.
SECOND PERIOD — Scoring: 2, Toledo-Zultek 3 (Smith; Jackson) 9:08. 3,
Wheeling-Cheesman 2 (Sonnenberg) 9:53. 4, Wheeling-Collins 6 (Rouleau;
Mihaly) 10:58. 5, Wheeling-Mihaly 1 (power play) (Collins; Hodge)
19:50. Penalties: Cameron, WHL (Interference), 3:25. Attard, TOL
(Unsportsmanlike Cond), 10:32. Franck, WHL served by Doyle (Hooking),
10:32. Loya, WHL (Board check), 13:51. Knight, TOL (Holding), 19:32.
Keefe, TOL (Ten minute misc.), 20:00.
THIRD PERIOD — Scoring: 6, Toledo-Jackson 1 (Smith; Zultek) 2:44. 7,
Toledo-James 1 (power play) (Kearns; Knight) 4:57. 8, Toledo-Kearns 5
(power play) (Reid; Blight) 14:55. Penalties: Snowball, TOL (Charging),
0:21. Mihaly, WHL (Elbowing), 4:12. Keefe, TOL (Board check), 11:09.
Tremblay, WHL (Interference), 13:15.
OVERTIME — Scoring: 9, Toledo-Zultek 4 (game winner) (Jackson;
Maleyko) 14:10. Penalties: Loya, WHL (Delay of game), 5:29. Adams,
TOL (Hooking), 9:08. Magowan, TOL (Roughing), 12:52. Rouleau, WHL
Shots On Goal
Wheeling 14 10 4 4–32
Toledo 13 13 16 13–55
Power Play Conversions: Wheeling – 2 of 10, Toledo – 2 of 6.
Goalies: Wheeling-Franck (55 shots, 50 saves; record: 3-1-1). Toledo-
Koopmans (32 shots, 28 saves; record: 1-0-0).
A: 1547. Referee: Banfield. Linesmen: Phillips; Allman.
Wheeling vs. Toledo
Last night: Toledo 5, Wheeling 4, OT. Toledo leads series 1-0
Wednesday April 26: Wheeling at Toledo, 7:05 p.m.
Friday April 28: Toledo at Wheeling, 7:35 p.m.
Saturday April 29: Toledo at Wheeling, 1:05 p.m., if necessary
Monday, May 1: Wheeling at Toledo, 7:05, if necessary
Florida vs. Gwinnett
Tomorrow: Florida at Gwinnett, 7:05 p.m.
Friday: Florida at Gwinnett, 7:35 p.m.
Saturday: Gwinnett at Florida, 7:30 p.m.
Monday, May 1: Gwinnett at Florida, 7:30 p.m., if necessary
Wednesday, May 3: Florida at Gwinnett, 7:05 p.m., if necessary