Walleye win crucial game in Kalamazoo 4-1Written by Vincent D. Scebbi | | firstname.lastname@example.org
KALAMAZOO, Mich. – The Toledo Walleye (35-24-9) are just a win away from clinching a postseason bid after winning 4-1 against the Kalamazoo Wings on March 22.
Toledo jumped ahead early in the first period and never looked back against the Wings (32-29-6), who trail Toledo in the conference standings by nine points now.
“That was probably one of the most complete games we’ve played all year because the offense was there because our defense, everybody was committed to defense, blocking shots, getting pucks deep when we don’t have a play,” said Walleye head coach Nick Vitucci. “That was a great hockey game that we played.”
Toledo netminder Kent Simpson continues to provide exceptional play between the pipes. Coming off a shutout performance against the Evansville IceMen two days ago, Simpson finished the night with 33 saves and stopped 27 pucks before allowing a goal late in the third period.
This was the rookie goalie’s fifth consecutive start and in that span he is 4-1-0.
“I think I was just trying to be solid for the guys. They’re playing well. I’m just trying to make the saves that I can and they got a lucky one by me at the end,” Simpson said. “But we got the two points and that was what we came here for.”
Toledo’s defense helped Simpson out by picking up rebounds and preventing second and third chance opportunities for the Wings, who finished with 34 shots on goal.
“We know Kalamazoo is a team that throws pucks on the net and crashes and they know where to throw the puck,” Simpson said. “It was huge coming in; we knew we had to collapse back and they did a great job for me.”
Leading the way offensively for Toledo was the Willie Coetzee-Joey Martin-Trevor Parkes line, which combined for five points (2G, 3A) tonight.
Forward Coetzee paced the Walleye, finishing the night with two goals and an assist.
Martin tallied a goal and an assist of his own and Parkes assisted Coetzee’s second goal.
The Walleye scored in the first 92 seconds of the game after a give-and-go play between Martin and Coetzee that ended with Martin’s shot from the slot getting behind Joel Martin.
The play started after Martin stopped a Kalamazoo odd-man rush by intercepting a puck in front of his own net, then passing the puck to Coetzee, which set up the play.
“That’s a hockey play; it’s a good hockey play,” Vitucci said. “They’ve played together on-and-off for quite a while; they kind of have a good feel for where each other is.”
Toledo extended their lead with 9:51 left in the opening stanza when Tyler Brenner scored on the rebound to make it 2-0. Travis Novak and Phil Oreskovic assisted the play.
Coetzee scored with 5:29 left in the second period after he danced around the defense and finished the play for his 26th goal of the season.
He scored his second of the game 3:48 into the third period on a similar give-and-go play between him and Martin that was initially saved by Joel Martin, but Coetzee picked up the rebound and finished the play to increase Toledo’s lead to four.
“We go through line rushes in practice once or twice a week and we kind of know where our options are depending on the situation but that’s a great hockey play,” Vitucci said.
Kalamazoo got on the board with 5:42 left in regulation when its 28th shot on goal got behind Simpson.
Charging down the slot was defenseman Mitch Versteeg, who took a pass from the corner by Nick Sirota and the quick shot got though.
“Kalamazoo is a tough team to play against because they activate their D-men so much in their offensive zone,” Vitucci said. “Sometimes it’s hard to keep track of who’s who and that was what happened on that goal against. Their D-man jumped down, Randy Rowe was going with him and he had to go one way because our players were there and the guy got to the front of the net.”
Vitucci said he is confident in his team’s chances of making the playoffs for the second time in Walleye history. To miss the playoffs, the Walleye would need to lose their last four games and Kalamazoo would have to win their last five games.
“By all means we’re confident; with the way we’re playing right now and how the playoff format is looking, it’s getting closer and closer to reality. You have to be confident this time of year,” he said.
The Walleye can clinch a postseason berth March 23 when Toledo hosts the conference-leading Reading Royals (44-18-6).
The Royals are coming off a game in Evansville, Ind., a seven-and-a-half-hour drive, and Vitucci said the team’s strategy will be to start as the aggressor and set the tone for the rest of the game.
“We know they’ll be a little tired because we’ve made that trip all year and we know how tired we are,” he said. “It’s going to be important for us to get out on a quick start like we did here tonight with Kalamazoo with a couple of great opportunities in those early shifts and hopefully those can set the tone for us during that game and trying to maintain it.”
Vitucci said he has not decided if Simpson or Jordan Pearce will start in the contest, which is slated for 7 p.m. March 23 at the Huntington Center.