WHEELING - Earlier in the week Wheeling goaltender Scott Darling was saying how he's never been around a goalie as decorated as his counterpart Friday night, Florida's John Muse. After backstopping Boston College to an NCAA crown, Muse led the Blades to the Kelly Cup title last season, winning MVP honors along the way.
Muse proved to be as advertised against the Nailers. He stopped 41 of 44 shots and five more in a shootout as the Everblades (9-8-5 - 23) edged Wheeling (6-8-4 - 16) by a 4-3 count in the first of two straight meetings between the teams at WesBanco Arena.
''Muse played well - made some saves when he had to going down the stretch,'' Nailers coach Clark Donatelli said. ''There's a reason he won it last year''
Wheeling’s Carl Sneep, right, celebrates with Peter Lenes, center, Christiaan Minella (11) and Cody Chupp (9).
Muse had to be just about perfect after Florida blitzed Wheeling with three first-period goals. He was under siege the rest of the night as the Nailers went into relentless mode, finally earning the equalizer with 30 seconds left in regulation as newcomer Chris Higgins, playing his first game in a Wheeling uniform, dove in the slot with the puck on his stick and beat Muse for his first of the season.
''Cody Wild did a good job just getting the puck to the net,'' Higgins recalled. ''We said right before the faceoff, just try to win it back and he was going to tee it up. I just went hard to the net and it felt good just to get that first one, to calm down and get the confidence just a little bit.''
The Nailers had a number of chances in the overtime period where they registered all three shots between the two teams. Andrew Hotham had the best of the bunch but his shot hit the post.
Florida3 0 0 0 - 4
Wheeling0 1 2 0 - 3
1st Period-1, Florida, Shugg 7 (Salters), 8:50. 2, Florida, Raymond 6 (Trivino , Salters), 9:08. 3, Florida, Shugg 8 (Trivino , Raymond), 12:53. Penalties-Pither Whl (slashing ), 15:00; served by Lenes Whl (bench - too many men), 17:57.
2nd Period-4, Wheeling, Sneep 2 (Lenes, Chupp), 7:04 (PP). Penalties-Landry Fla (cross-checking, cross-checking), 4:05; Merth Whl (interference on the goalkeeper), 8:48; Chupp Whl (elbowing), 10:15; Hotham Whl (cross-checking), 12:59; Ellington Fla (hooking), 16:19.
3rd Period-5, Wheeling, Zurevinski 4 (Lefebvre, Fergus), 6:26. 6, Wheeling, Higgins 1 (Zurevinski, Wild), 19:30 (PP). Penalties-Roy Fla (roughing), 6:26; Zurevinski Whl (roughing), 6:26; Ellington Fla (slashing ), 15:20; O'Byrne Fla (cross-checking), 16:55; Rutherford Fla (closing hand on puck), 19:25.
OT Period- No Scoring.Penalties-No Penalties
Shootout - Florida 1 (Irwin G, Shugg NG, Rutherford NG, Trivino NG, Beca NG), Wheeling 0 (Higgins NG, Fergus NG, Lenes NG, Pither NG, Chupp NG).
Shots on Goal-Florida 8-6-2-0-1-17. Wheeling 13-11-17-3-0-44.
Power-Play Opportunities-Florida 0-5; Wheeling 2-6.
Goalies-Florida, Muse 4-3-1-3 (44 shots-41 saves). Wheeling, Darling 3-3-0-1 (16 shots-13 saves).
Referee-Brett Sheva (15); Linesmen-Shaun Morgan (71), Francis Trempe (85).
''I came in and gave it to them a little bit after the first and they responded,'' Donatelli said. ''I'm very happy with the way they responded and I'm real proud of this group.''
The Everblades had more than a few opportunities to deliver a knockout blow on a power play that came into the game ranked third in the league clicking at a 26-percent clip. They had a two-man advantage that Donatelli said ''was the game right there'' had Florida scored. But Wheeling's penalty kill shut the Blades out on six tries and it slowly began to chip away.
''I think we've doing a lot more video and focusing in on exactly what teams are doing,'' the Nailers' Scott Zurevinksi said. '' I think we had a good read on what they had in their book of tricks and the boys did a good job shutting them down.''
Wheeling got on the board at 7:04 of the second with a power-play goal. Peter Lenes hit the post but moments later defenseman Carl Sneep knuckled a shot from the point past Muse for his second of the season. Cody Chupp earned the secondary assist.
Zurevinski brought the Nailers within one when he carried the puck from behind the Florida net, wheeled and snuck one between Muse and the near post for his fourth. Philippe Lefebvre and Cam Fergus earned helpers.
That's the way it remained until Higgins came through with the Nailers on the power play and Darling (13 saves), who could not have stopped any of the three goals - two on odd-man rushes and another on a bad pinch - off for the extra attacker.
''We're getting to the point in the year when we need these points and we can't dropping periods like that, especially at home,'' Zurevinski said. ''I think (this) is definitely a learning experience.
''We had a little adversity and took it right on and got back into the game and squeaked out a point.''