WHEELING - As it turns out, the game meant absolutely nothing in the standings. Between the ears, though, Wheeling's victory against Elmira on Saturday night at WesBanco Arena could be immeasurable.
Patrick Killeen was stellar in the shootout and Andrew Hotham and Zack Torquato both scored against Brian Stewart, who had been a perfect 13-0 in similar circumstances in his pro career, as the Nailers (37-26-9 - 83) rallied from a 3-1 deficit for a 4-3 victory before a sellout crowd announced at 5,486.
''They're a good team and he's a great goalie, but we're not afraid of anybody,'' Wheeling coach Clark Donatelli said. ''Down 3-1 going into the third period, no quit in the guys. They keep working hard and good things happen.
Wheeling Nailers goaltender Patrick Killeen stacks the pads to turn away Elmira Jackals Center Jordan Pietrus, left, during act of a mutual regular-season finale Saturday night at WesBanco Arena.
The Nailers clinched the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference and will play No. 3 Kalamazoo, the team that ousted them last season in the conference finals, in the first round of the playoffs. Game 1 is scheduled for 7:05 on Tuesday night at WesBanco Arena, with Game 2 the following night at the same time.
''We faced some adversity here, and they grinded it out right to the end,'' Donatelli said.
There could be more adversity on the horizon. Cody Chupp, arguably the Nailers' best player, left late in the first period as a result of an elbow that earned Elmira (45-22-5 - 95) defenseman Mario Larocque a 5-minute major and a game misconduct. Chupp, who did not return to the lineup, is day-to-day according to the coach.
''I thought it was a flying elbow - he left his feet,'' Donatelli said. ''I guess that's part of hockey, though.''
After Paul Crowder had given the Nailers a 1-0 lead with his 23rd goal of the season at the 5:06 mark of the second, the Jackals scored three in a row, all on the power play.
Craig Rivet (fifth) and Matt Campanale (12th) scored on slap shots and Mike Radja (31st) sneaked a rebound past a diving Killeen's stick. At this point, after killing nearly 8 minutes of penalties consecutively, Wheeling was clearly gassed.
''They were 3-for-5 at that point on the power play and we took undisciplined penalties,'' Donatelli said. ''We went into the locker room and it was 3-1, so we said we have to come out and win the first 5, 6 minutes and keep plugging away.''
Defenseman Jordon Southorn got the Nailers within one when he ripped a slap shot past Stewart from the mid-point for his eighth of the season, a power-play goal at 5:15. More than 8 minutes later, it was tied when Crowder netted his second of the game and 24th from Chris Barton.
''He's got a good shot and I have been telling him to shoot the puck,'' Donatelli said of Southorn.
Neither team scored from that point on in regulation and then in overtime, setting the stage for the shootout.
The first six combined shooters failed to score before Elmira's Dustin Gazley, the likely ECHL Rookie of the Year, beat Killeen on the backhand. Crowder was stopped as was the Jackals' Kyel Reeds, leaving the game on Hotham's stick.
Hotham weaved all the way across the ice slowly before deking Stewart down and scoring top shelf just under the crossbar. Campanale was turned away and Torquato then scored on the backhand for a victory.
''We've had a couple shootouts against them. One time I shot it and another I made a move and he stopped it,'' Torquato said of Stewart. ''I just tried something different and it worked.
''We went through the adversity (losing eight in a row) and came out it. It shows the character of the guys in that room.''
Elmira0 3 0 0 - 3
Wheeling0 1 2 0 - 4
1st Period- No Scoring.Penalties-Hansen Whl (slashing ), 0:59; Larocque Elm (elbowing - major, game misconduct - elbowing), 19:54.
2nd Period-1, Wheeling, Crowder 23 (Hotham, Minella), 5:06. 2, Elmira, Rivet 5 (Demkov), 6:47 (PP). 3, Elmira, Campanale 7 (Martin, Pietrus), 8:16 (PP). 4, Elmira, Radja 31 (Demkov, Gazley), 11:39 (PP). Penalties-Ross Whl (interference, roughing), 6:36; Bellamy Elm (roughing), 8:16; Campanale Elm (roughing), 8:16; Hotham Whl (roughing), 8:16; Merth Whl (roughing, cross-checking), 8:16; Bushee Whl (delay of game), 11:29.
3rd Period-5, Wheeling, Southorn 8 (Schepke, Fergus), 5:15 (PP). 6, Wheeling, Crowder 24 (Barton), 13:47. Penalties-Tamblyn Elm (hooking), 3:52; Rush Elm (closing hand on puck), 9:29; Bushee Whl (high-sticking), 11:08.
OT Period- No Scoring.Penalties-No Penalties
Shootout - Elmira 1 (Pietrus NG, Radja NG, Demkov NG, Gazley G, Reeds NG, Campanale NG), Wheeling 2 (Hansen NG, Barton NG, Fergus NG, Crowder NG, Hotham G, Torquato G).
Shots on Goal-Elmira 10-17-5-1-0-33. Wheeling 7-13-8-1-1-30.
Power-Play Opportunities-Elmira 3 / 6; Wheeling 1 / 3.
Goalies-Elmira, Stewart 26-11-1-1 (29 shots-26 saves). Wheeling, Killeen 19-12-2-2 (33 shots-30 saves).
Referee-Joe Sullivan (4); Linesmen-Zach Roberts (84), Francis Trempe (85).